Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Last Gasp: A Rant, and A Coming of Age

It’s not hunting season yet here in Jerome Creek; it’s fire season. The area immediately around me here, with all the logging and National Forest land, seems to be relatively well-managed and we haven’t had too much in the way of local fires (I guess there was a small one, about two miles away, that burned for a week or so, but it was out before I got out here). A. had said to the previous house-watcher, Z., that in case of wildfire, open the gate for the horses, take the dogs, and get out. While that is excellent advice, it doesn’t do anything to protect us from the general air quality, which is listed for the weekend as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” meaning “everyone should limit exertion outdoors” and implying, I suppose, that those such as me, with cancer/pneumonia-scarred lungs, should limit exertion. Full stop.

I suppose, also, that the trail clearing I did for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, frequently sawing with my arm fully extended above my head, and sometimes perched on rotting spars, hanging onto a stronger limb with my non-sawing hand (bathed in sweat under my daypack)—I suppose that counts as “exertion”, and I’ve probably fulfilled my quota for the . . . ever.

By way of comparison, the air quality in Beijing today, as measured by the US Embassy, is listed at 192—which means you’re about to die. Out here, it’s only in the range of 101-150. These numbers are based on some measure of particulate matter as well as, perhaps, the type of particulate matter, but who knows. At any rate, it looks like it would behoove me, as well as my hooved charges, to stay close to home today, and by that I mean inside typing or knitting. Me, that is. The horses can stay out, or penned in, as is the case with Snickers. More about her later.

It’s hard for me to see the sun shining (well, glowing through the haze) and stay inside—being from the Pacific part of the Pacific Northwest means, in general, clean, wet, rainy air—and so no rain means go outside, yes? Yes, for most of the year, although the bowl of the city between two mountain ranges means that, by late August, heavy, filthy air pools over town. Flying in, you watch yourself descending through a dun-yellow layer. The layer was particularly dismaying this fiery September, returning to smoky, smoggy Seattle on the 12th, after a generous week in the crystalline late-summer air of watery Sweden. The rising sun on the 13th was End-of-Days Red. It was a bit of a drag being home—like taking a puff on a cigarette. My skin immediately began to feel dirty, my nose stuffy. As I slowly encrusted with a limn of filth, becoming dun colored myself to match my surroundings, I realized how much a creature of water I really am. Coming out here has not made that observation less acute.

Note: I went outside briefly to tend to Snickers and I wore one of my headscarves over my face. I didn’t bring my oxymeter along with me this trip, but I’m definitely staying inside. It’s bad out there.

I have also discovered that I am an aging creature of water—maybe not quite a 300-year-old sturgeon yet, but definitely not 30 anymore. And so, when Snickers immediately came up lame, my first morning here, I was not thrilled to be given yet another opportunity to show off my rancher’s skills.

In the case of Snickers, she was lame with a stone bruise on her right front hoof for a few weeks (?), up until the day K&A left for their trip (Europe, 11 Sept-4 Oct). She was given sturdy shoes on the morning of the 11th, with pads built in so that the rocky terrain wouldn’t continue to injure her sensitive soles, and then she was turned out with the other horses and went galloping off up the hill—after weeks on stall rest—and K&A left, she went out daily for a week, and on the 19th when I went to let the horses out, Snickers couldn’t put any weight on her right leg at all.


This is where 1) having some knowledge about horses and 2) loving this family and their animals, are MAJOR inconveniences. I let Shadow and Sikem out, and brought Snickers up to the Garagemahal where I found her last recovery stall still recognizable as a sick-bed: there is a deep, soft layer of sawdust in Sikem’s stall and pen, the nearest one to the house. I stumbled upon wraps—evidence of leg-care—on the work bench in the garage. I gave Snickers some hay, then came inside to call W, K&A’s daughter in Seattle, who knows the place in and out and is also comfortable issuing directives about her parents’ animals. We decided to have the vet in.

To sum up: Snickers’s right foot seems to be fine, although with a slightly suspicious swelling in a spot on the coronet (just above the hoof). This could be related to a deeply cystic stone bruise; it could be nothing. Her tendon between the pastern (ankle) and the knee (knee), however, is swollen and sore. To help her heal, she is having both front legs wrapped (note: by me), with big puffy bandages and leg-wrapping material, that I’ve had to tape on because the wraps don’t have Velcro or anything else (I had to go in search of tape). Snickers was not happy to hear the startling sound of duct tape unrolling under her belly the first night. These bandages are essentially support hose.

Twice a day, although for my own peace of mind it’s going to be once a day, she gets a cold-pack for 15-20 minutes, which means unwrapping and wrapping and unwrapping and wrapping her right leg.

(An aside: Tessa just farted a BIG ONE in the kitchen. I feel that that is, truly, the final insult. I can’t go outside; and now I’m about to expire inside as well. Stupid dogs.)

Since Snickers is in a stall, I have to feed her morning and evening, and it’s better to feed her from a bag, which hangs and she doesn’t have to bend down, putting more pressure on her front legs. The bag was difficult to find, but I did find it after about an hour. It also takes me about 5 minutes to feed in a hay bag, instead of 20 seconds to chuck hay over the side of the stall. Today I have to toss down another bale of hay from the loft (I think these are smallish, 75-pound bales, but I haven’t tried to move one yet), which I’m sure is going to freak the horse out. I’m thinking I’ll try and toss it out onto the driveway . . .

The water in the barn is turned off, for some reason, so I had to go search out hoses with which to fill her water tank every day (note: her water is also Spackle’s favorite outside drinking water source.). I had to bring salt up from the outdoor pens (about 45 pounds left in the 50-pound block) which meant I had to go into town and buy more salt for the pens. That was fine, however, because I also had to go into town for the medication that I have to administer 2Xday. I had tried to get the oral injectable version, which is like a big syringe of worming goop that you squirt behind the molars, but the vet was out so I ended up with an orange-flavored powder (the vet: “Orange, yeah. Horses don’t eat oranges, so I’m not sure about that.”) that I have to mix with syrup and grain (so the powder sticks, and so she’ll eat it). This is messy, and the powder is “not to be used on horses meant for human consumption”, which, the way it appeared in two lines on the jar, made me think at first that they were saying “Not to be used on horses; Meant for human consumption.” This was briefly confusing for the internal linguist, but I figured it out. Note to readers: do not ever eat Snickers, horse-version. She’s had a lot of bute.

AND, finally, because she’s now in a stall, I need to scoop poop every day and because she’s much closer to the house with all her poop, the flies have come back. I’ve probably killed at least 60 flies inside in the last 4 days. This starts to get disgusting, after a while.

I’m not sure if I’m done listing ALL THE THINGS I HAVE TO DO, but I’ve gotten very bored with it and so I’m going to stop. I was feeling quite resentful of K&A yesterday, that I was out here doing A LOT of work, when really all I wanted to do was ride, wander, and write—at Shadow’s pace, which has slowed considerably this year, as I’d wished for mine to do as well. But the fact is, K&A are going to be SO GLAD that I was here, and SO SORRY anyway, that I had to deal with all this, and they are wonderful, dear people who have enriched my life in immeasurable ways. So, much as I am tired of the hassle and covered with dirt and smoke, inside and out, and disappointed that this visit isn’t the vacation in paradise that I have come to expect—although, part of my previous definition of paradise INCLUDED being able to solve problems difficult for the standard housesitter, and that definition is clearly changing—even though all of that is true, I am unbegrudging in my care for these animals and this place. I, too, am VERY GLAD that I am the one here right now.

But . . . as Shadow ages, and as K&A age, and as I age . . . my standard of spending weeks here, year after year, is coming to a close. I could see another, shorter trip next June, maybe, when conditions are the perfect blend between wet and dry; and a long weekend in the late fall, maybe for a couple more years . . . but life is moving on for all of us who love it out here.

Two valuable lessons that have come from Jerome Creek: I will happily rent out my pastureland to livestock owners who will be entirely in charge of their livestock. Also, I will buy a grand piano long before I’ll buy a horse. I think Ian will go along with me on these. 

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