Friday, January 26, 2024

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. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 201 (the day after the solstice)

 I was walking through the barnyard with the plants for Keil and Salina’s gravesites when I heard the sound of several small planes approaching. When I looked up, there were three flying in close formation over the farm, and as I watched, they did a maneuver where they flew apart in three different directions in a quick and sudden movement.

It was truly spectacular, and as usual since October 25th, I view everything like this as a sign of Keil Bay’s passing. This was surely a little celebratory display to mark the planting of natives including blue-eyed grass, poke milkweed, and sweetleaf, aka horse sugar.

I managed to get a few photos after the planes did the spread and then began to come back to formation:

Friday, December 22, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 201 (winter solstice - the day after)


I had the most amazing experience yesterday and last night. As I ran a few errands in town yesterday, along the parkway like stretch of road between November Hill and town George Winston’s rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon came on and I suddenly had the visceral sense and visualization of Keil Bay galloping along beside me on the right and for the first time ever, of Salina galloping to my left. The two were whinnying back and forth, arching their muscled necks and buckling forward as their hindquarters gathered and pushed them into even faster forward motion. 

Since very early childhood I have had this experience with a big red bay horse and it was quite wonderful to suddenly have a black and a bay and feel the presence of these two equine spirits I have known and loved for years on end. 

Last night I went out in the later evening with a single lit forest green candle, a bag of carrots, and a paper with two poems written on it. I fed the carrots first as the candle burned in the center of the barn aisle. Little Man and Rafer were standing in their stall doorway, leaning in over the top, and directly across the aisle were Cody and Redford doing the same thing. I gave out the carrots one by one, alternating one equine at a time. Little Man was just up from a sleep in the new shavings, eyes still partly shut. Rafer stretched his neck sideways over the stall door in an effort to reach further than his best friend. Redford stretched his neck up high and Cody stood tall with ears pricked forward. 

After the carrots were gone I spoke a little about our year and our saying goodbye to Keil Bay. When I say his name their ears prick up. I mentioned Salina and how I feel the spirits of both horses with us every day. I read the two poems with great focus and fanfare. When I tell you that every one of these equines stood tall, eyes on me, ears up high, and listened with the greatest of attention as I made eye contact with each one, I am not exaggerating. It was a solstice ceremony and I don’t think I have ever been joined so completely in my annual ritual as I was last night. It was a gift and when it was over I took the candle out into the barnyard, to the spot where Keil Bay took his final breath, and I had a conversation with him and with Salina, and then I looked up at the night sky. It was a much brighter than usual longest night thanks to the waxing gibbous moon. I read that the moon is full this year on Christmas and it seems so very fitting that this first solstice after the passing of Keil is a brighter one. We all needed this light this year. 

Today I finally got the second batch of native plants for the gravesite. As I drove home Keil and Salina galloped alongside the car, and I smiled. We have sunshine today and a bit warmer weather than yesterday, and the light - it is brilliant and so very bright.