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.
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.