Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Freedom


As I have noted before, I am uncommonly lucky to live in a country, in a socio-economic group, that allows me to have unusually high access to personal freedom.  I am free from want; I am free from oppression.  I am free from bad teeth and debilitating eye issues.  I am, so far, free from death.  There are many places in the world where these things would not be true.  But, being human, perhaps as a very symptom of the freedoms I enjoy, I construct ways to want.  I invent ways to be oppressed.  (I do pretty well at oral hygiene, however, and since I’m down to a mere three drops per day for my eye, I’m keeping up with that pretty well, too).  But there are times when I’ll find myself dissatisfied.  Other thirty-somethings, I’ll think to myself, get to do all these things.  Why can’t I?  I WANT TO.  IT’S NOT FAIR. Or, With my cancer/anxiety/occasional migraines/other-manufactured-things-to-worry-about, maybe I SHOULDN’T be allowed to do this thing I love.  I can dig quite a hole for myself.
Nine years ago, when I first started going to Idaho to house/horsesit, I would marvel at how healthy I felt there, in the wilds, away from the cares and considerations of my day-to-day life in the city. I feel so healthy out here, I realized once, that I don’t even think about it. That, for me, at that time, was the true measure of health—a very young, sheltered, na├»ve definition that nevertheless was true for me—I suddenly realized that, when you’re in it, youth=health=immortality and therefore there is no discussion. The sun rises and sets.  Water is wet.  These are facts of life. What is there to question, or even to notice?  For several years, Jerome Creek allowed me to pretend, for up to three weeks at a time, that cancer didn’t exist and I was still that same old invincible teenager.
All travel allows us to shed the cares of home, at least a little; but as I’ve grown through my cancer experience, I’ve also had it follow me to my Idaho paradise—a migraine here; a panic attack there; the medically influenced runs or jams; the very fact that one of my doctors is a Son of the Land. I have found that I can no longer escape when I go there, and this was causing me a lot of manufactured-things-to-worry-about anxiety before I left for this second trip.  I invited lots of people to come and visit me in my mountain fastness, but it turned out their schedules meshed best with my first week, and I was to be left alone during the two-farm days. 
In the late summer of 2009, one year after practically dying, I was out for a visit at Jerome Creek and I took Shadow, my dear horse (she is mine by now, no matter who pays all her bills or shelters her, and thank you very much for doing that for me, K&A), out for a bareback ride.  As I rode along, I thought back to the last time I’d actually been on her bareback, and it had been three years before.  Maybe I am too old for this, I thought uneasily, as Shadow twitched her ears back and forth at me, asking to gallop.  Maybe I have passed the time in my life when I am going to be able to gallop bareback.  But fortunately something in me wouldn’t accept that, and so we did gallop a little, me clutching at Shadow’s mane and desperately clinging with my legs, and I was very tired at the end of our ride, but I WAS NOT TOO OLD. 
This trip out, I was stronger because I have learned in the last couple years that you’re never too old to regain strength (case in point: my 96-year-old grandmother with the 5-month-old knee), and I’m mostly active during all the times of day when most of the other people I know are mostly stuck inside at desks.  But I was also prepared, as much as possible, for any eventuality health-wise, because with my new awareness of my reality, I know I must be.  
I asked for several local contact numbers and met the people I might theoretically call on for assistance.  MS volunteered to come right back over, forsaking her new love for another week, if I needed her.  I made a plan with Ian where I would call him before and after each and every  walk and ride, tell him where I was going, and write on the refrigerator white board the wheres and whens of my day. Ian had the number of my nearest contact, whom he could call if the sun had set and I was still at large. All of this prep assuaged my anxiety, and I settled into my solitude with commendable ease—in fact, pretty much unadulterated bliss, as you will have surmised from my recent posts (minus the episode with the chicken—those of you in Seattle who have hens, which I promised to take care of if you ever accidentally acquired a him instead . . . well, I’ll still do it, but much more soberly now.  So choose your flock carefully, please.)
Allowing in the fullness of me today—the needs for regular meals, good protein, pills on (more or less) time, exercise, help (the hardest one to admit)—actually, I realized as I was driving home yesterday afternoon, drinking in my favorite sights in the advancing season, allowed in a freeness that I haven’t experienced in a long time, maybe ever.  I was not out there ignoring my cancer; I was not out there in spite of my cancer.  There was no spite involved.  I was out there as MY WHOLE SELF and ALL THAT MEANS, and I have never felt more grateful for my life and the gifts it has brought me. 
K&A arrived home late Monday evening, the night before I left, from their 5 days on Orcas Island (where they had spent a night on our land on their way to sailing with A’s brother—oh, the crazy intertwined threads of human lives).  We were sitting in the kitchen, them just finishing their Subway sandwiches from a well-considered stop in Colfax; me chattering on about sawing down the forests and the hilarious quirks and foibles of the menagerie.
“Calin,” they said, more or less together (although not in unison—that would be a little creepy), “it is such a gift to us to have you here, taking care of things so beautifully.  We are able to completely enjoy being away, knowing that you are here, able to handle anything that could come up.  Is there anything we can for you in return?  Anything that you would like?”
I started to tear up (I am again, now).  “Only to come back,” I said.  “I LOVE being here.”
“Well, that makes it pretty cheap for us!” said K, leaning back in his chair, and we all laughed.  But it’s true—it is a perfect symbiotic relationship. 
In a very recognizable physical way, this realization—that my true freedom came only when I embraced the needs of my whole self, as she is today, not just carefully selected parts of myself—was good for me:  as I drove back into Seattle yesterday after my several days of unadulterated bliss, the usual mantle of tension did not descend onto my shoulders and around my chest, tightening my spine, squeezing me into a twisted, unforgiving corset of CANCER . . . because I had not thrown it aside in the first place.
I am indescribably lucky to have such a place where I can be wholly me: elemental, feral, capable.
Free.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lunch Out


Yesterday I achieved something big!  I successfully completed a long ride which I planned for, cleared a trail for, and managed to stay on track for (i.e. did not wander miles out of my way by missing a cutoff)!  Of course, since my previous long rides where I did get lost all involved guests and this one did not, you’ll have to take my word for it.  Don’t listen to any of them.  I totally know where I am at all times. 
Anyway, yesterday’s ride ended up being about 8 miles, and took 3 hours, and we climbed and descended about 1000 vertical feet—in a couple of precipitous climbs and drops with long passages of level between them as we walked along near-cliffsides.  There is nothing rolling about these here hills. 
I took Shadow and the Young Pups, and I actually squoze Shadow into a saddle so that I could navigate the hills more easily . . . because I knew where we were going, you see (UP), and I figured we would both have better balance on some of the more difficult terrain, if I could wedge my feet against something.  And sure enough, by the end of the ride, my legs were a little shaky.  MY legs. 
As the ride was going to take place midday, I packed a lunch.  After considering either ham and cheese, or pbj, I went with the pbj—it somehow didn’t seem right to eat meat when out with a horse, and certainly, if I were going to share, which I ultimately didn’t, she would probably prefer peanut butter to pork.  I also took an apple which I did share, as we meandered along a relatively level logging road in a recent local clearcut.  I did this the other day, too, shared an apple on a ride, so Shadow knew what to expect the minute she heard me take a bite.  Her ears swiveled back and she slowed her walking, to be prepared for me to stop her and hand her a bite, which I did by reaching down my left hand to her turned head.  A bite for me, which I would chew completely, Shadow’s entire focus on my slowness at mastication (Ian can tell you more about this); then a big bite that I’d take out of my mouth and hand to her.  She got a very juicy core at the end.  The other day when we first shared an apple, several minutes after she’d finished the core she stopped, hopefully, turning her head back to me.  Nice try. 
It turns out that the section of trail I cleared was completely navigable . . . for Shadow and me.  I let her pause as often as she liked to catch her breath—it was a warm day, and I didn’t want her to overheat but I needn’t have worried—she’s incredibly tough.  We then tied in with a long, level forest service road that I’d driven to and walked on, and I ate my sandwich enjoying the enhanced views achieved with the extra horse-height beneath me.
There were two sections of my proposed trail that I hadn’t vetted before setting out, and sure enough, both needed work-arounds.  In the case of the first one, I more or less expected it to need a work-around, but I knew that the woods it traveled through were not dark and deep, but rather well-thinned and airy, and that wasn’t much trouble.  The other work-around, however, took place as we were beginning our return. 
Two possible tracks headed off down the hill through another clearcut, on our way home, and I had run partway down the branch I wanted to take—the one that looked less steep—but just barely not far enough.  Shadow and I reached the ridge where I’d stopped, peered over, and saw an impassibly long tree lying full out across the trail and way down into the brushy regrowth below.  It was not something I could tackle with my saw, or indeed a dozen of my saws.  We’d have to take the quad track.
I don’t know—I honestly do not understand—how people can find the nerve—let alone the vehicle—to drive some of the steep grades around here.  I would think they’d just roll over backwards going up, and somersault forwards all the way down.  Not Shadow, though.  She shifted back into her rump and descended that ladder-like slope headfirst, carrying a woman on her back, with the grace and agility of a dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet (if that’s the kind of thing they do.  Maybe I’m thinking of this instead.).  And I was still finishing my sandwich! We must have made an incongruous picture in the wilderness, the two of us in our full-on English riding attire—breeches and boots and helmet; English saddle and snaffle and breastplate; lunch. 
At the bottom, exhilarated, I shouted to the birds and the deer and my incomparable steed, “Shadow, you are a ROCK STAR!”
We made it the rest of the way encountering no further unexpected challenges, and had a joyous gallop through the meadow near home.  G&N got home in time to put their animals to bed last night and I was off the hook so I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and watched the sun set, then took a long, much needed bath (and cleaned the tub after).  In all, the ideal climax for the story of this visit. 
K&A will be back late tonight and G&N are taking me to the Hoo Doo for dinner.  I’m in a bit of denial about just how much I have to do to get out of here on Tuesday afternoon, but rather than worry about that right now, I’m going to take the dogs up the mountain and see if I can’t just tie a last couple trails together.  It’ll be time to be civilized soon enough.

This link occasionally shows the trails I’ve been working on, and where I’ve been.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Things That Go Munch in the Night

I put the dogs to bed and was lotioning my legs last night when Sadie and Tessa started barking downstairs from the back porch/mud room. There are range cattle about (including an adorable pure white calf whom I’ve seen several times as I’ve driven to and fro), and Spackle had been extremely barky down toward the road at last piddle—I assumed at beeves—and so I resolved to finish my second leg before doing anything. Cows can be annoying, but mostly when they're being barked at and I was hoping the girls would just stop.
I finished my legs but the barking hadn't even slowed and, starting to think now about just how far away from community I was here in this wilderness, with a brief consideration of A’s 22 and where she’d said she kept it (I wasn’t sure I remembered), I wrapped my kikoy around me and went to investigate.
"It's nothing, you silly things," I said, peeking in at them through the door to the back porch, hoping this was true. "It's cows. Go to sleep."
But they would not go, and Sadie in particular was barking with vim and purpose (Tessa was barking with vim and fear).
They came out of the back porch with me and into the kitchen, and Sadie made a beeline for the front door, barely pausing for the breath needed to maintain her barrage of noise.
Catching Tessa’s alarm and not at all comforted by Sadie’s indignant outrage, I turned on the front porch light, stepping to the side of the glass-paned door, trying to keep myself hidden from any possible intruders-to-be.  Sadie stared out intently into the yard.
"It's just my reflection you see, you silly dog," I said uncertainty, trying myself to peer past that reflection and through the prism glass. "Look," I said, and, screwing my courage to the sticking point, made myself to open the door.  "There's no one there."
But there WAS someone there.
Shadow, who had removed herself from her pen through a gate I had inadvertently left unfastened, was enjoying a midnight snack. I'm now sure it was she Spackle was barking at earlier.  When he failed to enlighten me as to her truancy though, Shadow, taking matters into her own hooves, had come up to the house and the measliest patch of weeds you’ve ever seen, its one advantage being that it was the only place visible in the light from the front door.  She knew Sadie would not rest until I had battened her back down for the night. 
Shadow put on a half-hearted show of evading me in the dark, and then walked docilely beside me, halterless, back to her pen, where she pushed back through her gate and stood quietly while I called her a silly horse, scratched her neck, and latched her in.
After all, it's no fun sneaking out if no one knows you've done it.

 
The "grazing" spot, as seen from the front door.  Doesn't that look lush and tasty?  Note, those are NOT the pens the horses were in last night. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Like the Bliss I’ve Come to Expect


Thursday and Friday were much more like other days that I’ve enjoyed here.  Busy, for sure—but that is only in part a function of taking care of two farms and much more because I’ve turned feral and am pretty much constantly on the hoof—my own or the horses’—when I’m not doling out feed or collecting eggs (two so far—so at least Sadie and I didn’t take out the one remaining layer in the flock).   
I think a lot about human/animal communication when I’m out here surrounded by . . . animals . . . and while I’m sure I anthropomorphize certain behaviors and responses, I am equally sure that not all of what I observe is simply me inappropriately attributing intention to action. 
On Thursday afternoon I took Snickers out for a ride.  My plan was to make a relatively near-to-the-house loop, but to take a couple moments to re-forge an old path and newly forge one I discovered a couple days previously on Shadow.  I took all four of my dogs, including the Aged Labradors, because we weren’t going for more than 3 miles, and it wasn’t going to be that strenuous of a pace.  Snickers did not particularly understand what I was doing on the ground with her reins looped around my wrist, shaking the trees, but after pushing me in the back a couple times, she settled down to eat whatever was within reach while I cleared brush.  I decided while out that I would let the horses in to the upper part of the Little Hay Field when I got back.
The horses started out this spring with a three-pasture rotation—in front of the house, behind the house, and the lower Little Hay Field—and these pastures each have at least one fence of white electrifiable tape, currently un-electrified, but the horses haven’t figured that out so they respect the boundaries.  I myself respect the boundaries so much that I was quite tentative in my first touch of the tape, yanking my hand away as if shocked, even knowing I wouldn’t be.  Electric fences.  The memory of their evil sticks with you.  To get to the upper LHF, I was told to turn back the white tape from the north side to two posts in.  The grass is so lush up there, however, that the horses are only supposed to be allowed to graze there for two hours.
This is a several-acre field full of 4-foot-tall grasses. 
There are three horses.
I can, at best, sprint 10mph.
So, I mused, as I rode Snickers along between sawings, I think I’ll put the horses into the lower pasture at 6pm, then open the upper pasture at 7pm, and go get them in at 9pm, when it’s getting dark and they’ll know it’s bedtime and it should be easier to convince them. “Snickers,” I said out loud, “I’m going to give you all a treat tonight, and let you into the upper pasture.”
Somewhere along our ride I took a new spur trail heading the direction I wanted to go to see where it ended up—the answer was down, but not far enough, and then it dead-ended.  I turned my horse back and rode to the trail I knew would work, then realized I was missing two dogs—mine.  Hoover came after some calling, but Spackle did not.  I worried a bit about him; although he’s been around these here parts for nigh on 10 years, this was a new trail and he’s not out in the woods all that much these days.  It was hot, though, and we had been (and were again) heading down into the Maple Creek draw, and he was familiar with that, and would, being Spackle, probably have beelined for water.  I called his name at regular intervals as we descended into the valley so that he could mark our progress, stopped at the bottom to have a piddle, and just as I remounted he appeared, grinning a sloppy grin, his lower half dripping from a cooling paddle. 
I enacted my plan re: grazing times/areas, and when I went to call the horses in for bed, only Snickers was up the hill on the other side of the white tape, grazing near the other two, but clearly having a much better meal than them.  I can only assume she heard me and understood. 
I had eaten an apple earlier that day and dropped the core—a pretty juicy, thick one—in Shadow’s grain bucket in her pen, just because I like her and she’s my girl. “Hey Shad,” I said as I approached her in the gloaming, secretly glad that two of my three horses hadn’t noticed their new, delectable freedom yet, “it’s bedtime, and I left you a little treat.  Go on!  Go in!” She glanced at me, and meandered a couple steps toward the pens, grazing as she went.  “Go on, Sik,” I said, turning to him.  “Bed time.  Go on in.”
Slowly I cajoled and pushed Shadow and Sikem back toward their pens, noting that Snickers was watching us go, but still enjoying her evening meal.  Not a big deal.  One horse is easy to catch if two are in.  Finally Shadow reached her threshold of cajoling and trotted off—doing what I wanted, but doing it on her terms.
Until she almost reached her gate, and glanced up the hill to the missing length of fence.  I saw her do an equine double-take, and then she bolted for Heavenly Long-Grass Freedom.  Sikem, sauntering along just behind me, threw his head up, snorted, and galloped, kicking and bucking, past me and up the hill following Shadow.  Snickers peeled away from her post near the white tape and joined them, racing into the dusk over the crest of the hill and away.
Huh.
Well, one thing was certain—the horses could not be left to graze all night in the long grass.  Shadow in particular is fat as butter right now, and too much green grass can be hard on their digestions.  Fortunately for me, K&A had, a couple years ago, purchased a really stable, really easy to drive quad, which enabled A to go collect horses when she was recovering from her knee accident. 
After not more than about 5 minutes, I remembered all the details about how to start the quad and, with Sadie barking hysterically in my ear and Hoover leaping joyously about, I set my jaw and headed off up the hill.
Dogs are not supposed to chase horses.  Horses will flee if they feel threatened, and all the pastures around here are securely, but cheaply, lined with barbed wire.  This works because the pastures are large enough that horses are unlikely to get too close to the wire on their own; however, a wild animal, or an hysterical Sadie and a joyous Hoover, could chase a horse into a fence, particularly in the dark (this is another reason why the horses are brought in at night.  Socialization is a third.). 
I was on a mission though, and I didn’t chase them on the quad, I herded them.  I really did—racing gleefully around in grass as high as my head, followed closely by two dogs who wanted to be chasing horses but couldn’t see where they were over the soaring fodder—I actually did a pretty good job of heading those horses off and sending them careening back down the hill and, ultimately, into their stalls.  We all, I think, enjoyed the mad career.  I sure did, and I have more sympathy now for Hoover, who really does respond very well to “NO”, much against his instincts. 
Shadow had long since eaten her apple core when I arrived to close gates (having taken the steepest downhill at a slow roll myself), and she came over to me as I latched her in with an air of contriteness that I don’t think I was imagining.  She had never before come to say goodnight, and she was clearly not trying to get out.  “I told you I left a treat for you,” I said, scratching her jaw while she whuffled at me. 
Okay, I need to go outside and put some horses in for naps and saw some things down.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tuesday Was Much Better


So I’ll go ahead and start with Wednesday.  

Wednesday really began at just around 12:01am, when I reached up to turn off my reading light, exhausted after my excellent Tuesday, and heard a distant crack of thunder.  This isn’t really a big deal in and of itself—it’s perhaps notable how easily I could hear such distant thunder—but thunder showers are more usual here than in Seattle.  The problem was that the horses were in their outside pens, which means that currently one of them (and lately it’s always been Snickers) doesn’t have a shed to stand under in case of inclement weather.  The other problem with the outside pens is that they’re just big enough that a horse likely to get up a head of nervous steam (Sikem) can actually leap around a bit, thus making an injury more possible.  

I lay for a moment in my suddenly exceedingly comfortable bed, then jumped out, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, stopped on the back porch for my boots and the resident dogs (Spackle and Hoover saw no need to be up in the middle of the night), and ran to collect halters.  

It’s far from silent out here in the wilderness—there’s constant birdsong or crickets, wind or whinnying, moos from the range cattle, and occasional ear-splitting shrieks and bays from the hounds.  Spackle likes to get them all going; he lounges on his bed and, when things have been still for too long, manufactures a reason to bark.  One bark from the Elder and the Underdogs fly into a frenzy, scrabbling from door to window to door again, screeching or bellowing their warning/hysteria/excitement, as Spackle smugly looks on.

Unlike the city, though, there is no underlying white noise to all the sounds of nature.  There is no freeway, no chatter of humanity, no hum of urban electricity.  Out here, the underlying layer is a stillness so absolute that, when the birds and the crickets pause, and the dogs are at rest, the silence pounds against your eardrums like a sinus infection. 

It also makes things like the sound of oncoming rain thrillingly audible.  

I managed to get Shadow moved across the yard before the first drops hit, and Sikem, although he was inclined to leap about in a histrionic frenzy, came willingly enough as the rain began to patter down.  I merely opened Snickers’s gate so that she could follow Sikem; I assumed she would be quite keen to get into a shelter; but no.  In the beginnings of a serious downpour, I had to return to the lawn to collect her and bring her in.  

Back at the house, Sadie and Tessa declared themselves done with sleeping on the porch for that night (the thunder was getting closer and the lightening was quite impressive); Spackle and Hoover had pulled themselves sleepily up and wandered downstairs to see what all the fuss was about, and so I collected two more dog beds and the five of us milled up the stairs and (eventually) got ourselves situated for the night.  

It rains.
Dogs snore.
And, at 5:45am, one of them tries to get in bed with you (note: not one of mine).
And, at 6:53am, another one of them tries to get in bed with you (note: also not one of mine).
At 7:35am the downpour that wakens you makes you glad you’d changed the horses over to a better shelter.
At 8:10am, you leap up, suddenly remembering that as of now, for the next 4 ½ days you are in charge of two farms, whose complement of animals comprises six dogs, five horses, four cows, three cats, three hens, and two pigs.  Make that two hens.

It wasn’t a particularly bad morning, I suppose.  It was wet enough that I decided I would probably not ride today, which is sad, but not the end of the world.  I let out my three horses, fed my four dogs, made a latte and headed up to G&N’s.  Up there I let their dogs out (both eager to sniff me and my car and obviously disappointed that I lacked dogs of my own in anything other than scent).  I let the hens out to pick grubs out of the horse poop, forked some hay over the hotwire to the horses, emptied a bag of cantaloupe rinds into the pigs’ trough and covered their heads with grain as they snuffled up the rinds, went back into the barn/shop/house and fed and tidied for the cats, gave each of the dogs a cookie and a firm command to “stay home,” and made my way back here.  

I was slow this morning, being a bit tired, and the internets had gone off again in the storm and were shy about returning, and when they returned I still couldn’t figure out how to fix the interface between Blogger and Word 2007 which went off a couple weeks ago (back when I last was posting.  I have figured out a work-around.).  Dusty, one of G&N’s dogs, came down to K&A’s farm soon after I arrived back here, which wasn’t a huge surprise, but then I had five dogs to manage and monitor, and Hoover was decidedly set against Dusty at the beginning (even though he’s met her many times before), and so there just seemed to be a lot of busy work to do, and I needed to go in to Moscow to get new tires for the 4-Runner (nothing happened to the old ones except wearing out).  I eventually got my horses in for their midday break (the grass is very lush very late this year, and so the horses’ intakes are still being carefully monitored).  

I felt a little anxious today, talking to the internet techs, the nice saleslady at the Moscow Old Navy, Ian, the people at Les Schwab, the checker at the Co-op, so I took a ¼ Clonazepam, and by the time I was heading home, around 5:00pm, things were looking up. The sun was cutting through the clouds as I drove up 95 on my new tires, illuminating one glowing idyll after another, the greens and golds and browns of early summer agriculture and intermingled pines sharply defined in the rain-washed air. I decided to take all the dogs up to G&N’s when I got home; we’d have a stroll around up there, with Kaluk, the remaining canine (who remains at home, in general).  I had a brief thought—dogs/hens—but decided it would probably be okay, because I assumed I’d only really have to watch my own.  

G&N’s place is the Northern Idaho equivalent of Cabo Verde—a virtually self-sufficient farm carved out of an essentially vertical mountainside. Kaluk greeted us warmly when we arrived and took the visiting dogs on a racing, erratic tour of the place while I went to feed the pigs (cute and smiling, but STINKY), then the horses.  I kept my eyes open for the hens, who were unconcernedly clucking about.  Spackle stuck pretty close to me, avidly interested in all the new smells.  I’m sure he was plotting a way into the pig pen.  Hoover leapt from pillar to post, until he saw HENS.  He focused, ran, and “HOOVER!” was pulled up short.  He focused, ran again, and “HOOVER!!” stopped and came bounding my direction.  The hens, which I really wanted to put in their pen, had scattered around the farm yard hither and yon.  I heard one cackling in a frenzy, which I realized a moment later when I heard silence.  I did an instant scan for dogs.  

“SADIE!!!!” I yelled, as the three Labs and I ran around the horse paddock and along by the garden.  My Wednesday had suddenly gotten much worse.  

There stood Sadie in the path, a mouth full of feathers, a dead hen at her feet.  “SADIE, NO!” I screeched.  “BAD DOG!” The horses, who had come running with the rest of us, wheeled away.  Sadie slunk, ashamed, into the nearby bushes, along with Spackle and Hoover, ashamed by association. Or so I thought, until a second hen, playing possum, was discovered by the slinking dogs.  She cackled wildly and flapped her wings and Hoover bolted at her until “HOOVER!!!!” he was pulled up short.  “ALL DOGS COME WITH ME!” I said in my Alpha-est tone, and marched them all down the hill to the truck, and locked them in.
I climbed back up the hill to survey the damage, and found the worst thing of all.  

Sadie hadn’t killed the chicken.

She had only maimed her.

I would have to kill her.

The thought of doing it with my bare hands came before the action could sneak in, and I realized I would need a tool.  I went back down the hill and into the barn/workshop/house and finally found a heavy, somewhat dull-looking splitting maul. I hauled it up the road to where the chicken lay, stunned, in a cloud of feathers, gently straightened her neck while she blinked at me, girded myself, and struck.  And struck again, and the third time her eyes closed and she went into the metaphorical—and literal—chicken-with-its-head-cut-off convulsions, legs pumping and one wing flapping.  

I thought briefly of butchering the chicken so as not to waste the meat but quickly discarded the idea; the last time I killed a chicken was the summer before 10th grade when we’d spent 10 hours on 150 of the things, and my dad had done all the butchering.  Besides, I reasoned, she was a layer, not a fryer, and also old and therefore tough. And, just, besides.  I found a posthole digger and a small plot of flat ground and buried the hen, marking her grave with two cement blocks (well, hoping to deter grave-robbers with the two cement blocks).  I caught the other hens and put them in their pen, returned my executioner’s ax, and decided that I could, after all, still use a walk in the woods with dogs.  

I freed mine from the back of the truck except for Sadie, whom I took gently but firmly by the snout so that I could give her a little lecture before letting her go.  She wouldn’t meet my eye.  Smart dog.

Tuesday, though, Tuesday was glorious.  Tuesday was why I come here, why I yearn to be here, why I want to do this Jerome Creek thing, live this Wild Girl life, for as long as I possibly can.  Two of my three sets of parents (K&A, and Ian’s parents, who had come for their country/horse fix) left Tuesday morning, giving me big hugs and leaving me in utter, unadulterated, independent bliss.  The dogs and I (only the fundamental four) took a long hike—about five miles—and finally solved the mystery of a trail that’s been bothering me for years.  Or, if we didn’t actually solve it, because the last time I rode it was about 8 years ago and there’s been clearcutting since, we at least found a satisfactory conclusion to the mystery, with even a bit of getting lost in the middle—enough for excitement without too much dread—and also in the middle, a bit of finding myself unexpectedly in a place I recognized, even though I’d arrived at it from some oblique direction.

And then, hot off the walk, I took my lovely Shadow out for a bareback ride and got her to cross a creek she wouldn’t cross a couple days earlier, and had several long, delicious gallops, and found a new spur trail that would shorten a rocky road and save Snickers’s tender feet in the future.  I ate an excellent steak salad for dinner, and thanked my lucky stars that I get to live this life.