Sunday, May 21, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

Today was not quite, in balance, a good day. Certain things were good—my friend S, still a new friend but rapidly becoming a long-term friend, is here, and we’ve been getting along great and she’s been enjoying the company of the dogs and the horses. It rained today, which may seem bad but is actually good, as it keeps me from feeling guilty about not watering the Arbor Day trees in their little blue tubes and the daffodils around the house (spring comes later here than in Seattle), and it created the perfect opportunity to sit on the couch with my knitting supplies and start the mathematically laborious task of working out the new pattern I’m creating. Also, rain doesn’t go on endlessly here—it rains, then it stops and the sun wetly appears and everything steams and suddenly it’s hot again, and then the sun starts to go down and suddenly it’s surprisingly cold. And on our evening ride we came upon a litter of coyote kits, trotting busily about in the waning light.

But the bad things are multifold. First, Doucely the cat has vanished. Doucely is an outdoor farm cat, and in coyote/eagle/barn owl country this is, almost without exception, eventually a death sentence . . . but nevertheless, no one wants to be responsible, even by proximity, for flipping that final switch. Doucely was a very sweet kitty, at least as far as I could tell from the first several days here. She was last seen about 4 miles north by neighbor G, day before yesterday, climbing a large lodge pole pine. Since then two different stray cats have availed themselves of her food . . . but they, I suspect, will be no acceptable replacement. I have not given up hope completely, but S and I have accidentally started referring to Doucely in the past tense. Not a good sign.

Second, Kit has decided that Loper is not, in fact, always welcome. Yesterday there was an episode of angry attack, which I broke up by sounding even angrier than Kit, and today after dinner there was an even worse episode. Spackle was already in the kitchen, Kit was in the kitchen, and Loper was heading nonchalantly in himself when Kit, with no warning, leapt at him snarling and barking. I leapt at Kit snarling and barking myself, and stomped up stairs after him to where he had retreated behind K&A’s bed where we’ve been sleeping, and made him sit, then made him lie down, then glared at him for a while. He stared back at me, not entirely unrepentant, and eventually reached up and licked under my chin. I read Julie of the Wolves, so I know what that means. And about time, too, I say. Eventually Spackle appeared as well, then Loper, then S, and after a bit of residual deep, throaty growls, Kit subsided and we all trouped back downstairs for a civilized evening of wine (S and me) and naps (the three dogs).

The third, and worst part, is Toby. I’ll say right off that it’s not serious in the scheme of things, and she’s going to be perfectly fine, but she’s out of commission for at least a week. Late last night, I was sitting in this very office, typing away at my recalcitrant email and listening to the frogs singing outside. Suddenly I heard a CLANG-WHACK-CLANG. The dogs snored on. I put my ear to the open window and listened intently . . . nothing. I assumed a horse had banged into a gate and left it at that. Soon after, I went to bed.

This morning, I got up around 7:30, the usual time, and when I went to let out the horses, saw that Shadow had pushed herself into Toby’s small corral. She was standing under the overhang, out of the rain, and Toby had stuck her head out of her stall, but Shadow was blocking her exit. I led Sikem down to the pasture first, then returned and extracted Shadow, then Toby, to lead them down together. As I haltered Toby and led her from her stall, I noticed that the sliding door between the stall and corral was askew in its tracks. I took the mares down to the pasture and released them, then returned to survey the stalls.

Shadow had managed to get herself into Toby’s corral, the inner of the three, and couldn’t get herself back out. She had wedged a gate and a door together, and it took some muscle to get them apart. Inside the stall, Toby had pooped quite a bit—which I know made her unhappy because she is the horse that leads all the others to poop way down at the bottom of the yard away from where people and horses sleep, when given the chance. Clearly, she hadn’t had a choice because Shadow’s menacing presence was blocking her way. Lastly, I saw that some kicks had evidently been aimed at the wall of the stall—two boards had been knocked out on one end, knocking this other sliding door askew on its track. I hammered everything back together, cleaned up the poop, rehung the doors, and sighed with relief. It could’ve been worse.

It was.

S and I walked up to collect the horses for our afternoon ride around 5:30, taking the long way through the tree farm to appreciate the views. We approached the horses from an unusual angle; if anything, this made them all the more set on eluding us and making us carry the halters. I noticed, from the distance the horses placed between us, some marks on Toby’s side, that looked maybe like dirt, but more like injuries. And then they took off down the hill toward home. We trudged along after them, eventually cornered them in the little square of pasture on the creek, caught Shadow and Sikem, and finally saw that Toby was, in fact, not covered with dirt at all. She was covered with bites—but all of them are on her off side, so I hadn’t seem them when I’d haltered her.

Shadow had bitten her, or she’d scraped herself in her stall trying to avoid Shadow, probably a dozen times. None of the marks is awful in itself; hardly any showed any blood at all; the only puffy one wasn’t hot to the touch. Fortunately her legs weren’t injured at all and she’s walking fine and eating fine. I slathered her sores with Bag Balm and crooned to her, and fed her a bit of extra grain. She snuffled my hair and my chest, and seemed to have forgiven me, or never have blamed me. It was my fault, though. I had failed to fasten the gate between Shadow and Toby’s stalls, and Shadow (is it part of her Machiavellian nightly routine to push on each gate, just to make sure?) took advantage. And when I heard the quick CLANG-WHACK-CLANG I listened, very carefully even, but I didn’t go check on anything.

I’ve spent the evening feeling kind of sick to my stomach.

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