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Category Archives: Ginny’s Ark

Me and My Main Squeezes

I’ve mentioned more than once to Mark that I should probably sell the horses before winter sets in, not because I want to, but because we don’t really know how long we will be living here, and finding them a wonderful home is very serious business to me. The house has had some close calls regarding selling, and we are now listing the entire 50 acres, sort of giving up the back up plan of selling the house on only 12 acres. At any time, with little notice, we might just have to pack up and vacate.  Anyway, I’d hate to put off attending to the inevitable problem of finding a home for my beloved horses until my options are limited. That would kill me ten times over, so, I’ve priced them at 1/3 what they are worth, hoping a serious horse lover will surface without me having to pass them on to just anyone, and this will help me live with the heartbreak. When Mark told me a friend from work was interested and would be stopping by this weekend to take a look I decided I should go spend some time with them. Partially to clean them up (They are remarkably dirty from the fall rain and mud ) and partially because I will miss them dreadfully and I just wanted to spend this beautiful day with them. 

I gave them both a bath, loving them with soap and water and touch, and they nuzzled me and licked my palm looking for a treat and I felt my heart shrivel up like the Grinch’s in the movie when “His heart grew three sizes that day” . . . only in reverse. 

I thought I’d like  get some additional pictures of them, actually, pictures of me with them, and I even had a camera in the pocket of my sweatshirt because I went down to the barn right after yoga. I was still dressed in my workout clothes and I’d taken pictures at the studio that day for the newsletter, but no one was around to take a shot, so I tried holding the camera out and taking a few pictures myself, just as my kids do for their my-space all the time. Man-o-man, that isn’t as easy as it looks. I must have taken 15 shots, and totally missed my face (or the animal’s) every time – you’d see a great shot of my ear and the horse’s nostril, or the top of my head (gee, my hair is getting gray in spots). But I managed to snag a few half frame pictures.  Mind you, this was after I spent two hours giving them a bath. . . and after a sweaty yoga class . . . and . . . well, if I was smart, I’d put on some make-up and a cute outfit and go back down and reshoot this to pretend I’m far more attractive on an average day than I am. But I figure the donkey and/or horse is going to steal the show in a shot like this anyway, so why not go au natural. Can’t hide the fact that I’m 50 and have my share of laugh-lines to prove it, or the fact taht I’m inclined to get down and dirty about any chance I get. So here I am, dirty, tired, but happy with with my boyfriends . . . they are not animals to me, but symbols of a lifestyle, a dream and the kind of joy a girl really can count on to remind her that the best things in life are simple (and often covered in fur). What they have given me can’t be described with words. 

(And if you wonder why all my pictures are so huge – it’s because I can’t figure out how to change the pixels on this new Mac mark set up for me, so the only way I can post a picture is to take it as it comes. . . and believe me, I wish I had options. I ‘d look better (and less wrinkly) if the dang picture was smaller. It’s like putting a magnifying glass and a harsh light on your face and sticking it right into the face of someone talking to you. Boy, the ego beating that comes with being techno-illiterate.)     


A rotten run

Sunday the weather was beautiful, so I decided to take a run. No, that is a huge exaggeration. I decided to take a long walk along country roads with intermittent clumsy jogs interspersed so I could pretend I was out on a run. Yes, that is more accurate.

I am and always have been a terrible runner. It’s one thing I really like that I’m absolutely no good at, and despite effort, don’t seem to improve doing. When I lived in Florida I went through a period where I readbooks on running. I did speed drills and distance runs and every single day I tried to improve my performance. Still, I was average at best. Probably a bit bellow average. Hell, I sucked. This is partially because I have such terrible feet from years of dance and running. Every time I run for a few weeks I get plantar facilities. I can barely walk, yet I’ll still plod on – ignoring the pain. I think another reason I’m a lousy runner is that I can’t keep my mind on the task at hand. I start off wanting to run faster or longer, but before you know it I’m ruminating on something – dreams, relationships, personal goals, problems and if not this, I start writing fiction or letters to people in my head. I guess running is medatative to me, so the minute sweat starts to make even the subtlest appearance, my mind take off, and my body simply slows down and falls into that lumbering plodding rhythm that lacks any semblance of runner’s talent.

 Ah well, at 50 how important is it to run fast or far anyway? The fact that I enjoy being outside and alone with my thoughts is what makes me love running. This is why I never run with anyone else. I’ve tried. I even had some lovely neighbors that ran everyone morning in Florida who always invited me to join them. I probably seemed like some anti-social creep because I always made an excuse to avoid joining them. My quiet time back then was just too precious and rare to give it up to be polite.

 In Florida, I ran 3 miles a day, at least 5 days a week. I almost always ran at 5:30 in the morning – first because it was just too hot later in the day to run and it was the only time I could carve out for myself that wouldn’t be interrupted by daily responsibilities, but later because I love mornings and I adored watching the sun come up. It was just me and the sunrise and my thoughts.

 Well, that isn’t exactly true either. It was me, the sunrise, my thoughts and Sam. Sam was my little dog and beloved running buddy.I pretended he was important for safety, you know they say a woman running alone out in the dark needs a dog for protection, but that wimpy mutt would roll over a cry if a squirrel looked at us funny, so the idea that he was protection was ludicrous.   He was, however, enthusiastic company and a great inspiration. On days when I was feeling lazy and wanted to skip running, he would look at me with such disappointment and confusion that I simply had to get out the leash and take him out. I always thought, ‘I’ll make this a short one”, but once I got outside the adrenaline kicked in and I’d do my traditional route.  Sam was my running muse.

 Anyway, I tried running in Georgia, even did a race or two, but the hills and the fluctuating weather and the fact that we had long since lost Sam in the woods one day, all added up to killing my motivation. I bought a treadmill thinking I’d run and watch TV, but since being outside and alone with my thoughts was the real purpose of running, this too sort of fell by the wayside.

 I became an ex-runner.              

 But I’ve been thinking about running a lot lately, missing it. It hit me just how much on a recent trip to Florida. I felt the balmy breeze in the early morning, looked at the long flat stretch of street and thought, “Running is what I miss most about living here.”

 So when I got home, I kept thinking about running, and it occurred to me that when I was a regular runner I spent a week every summer in Boston and despite the hills, I always fit a few good runs in – so the fact that there are hills really shouldn’t be an excuse for me to stop. And the fact that Sam is gone shouldn’t count either. Change is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean your gut self has to change.

 So, Sunday, when the weather was drop dead gorgeous and I was down at the barn with the horses, I looked down and noticed I had on some good (but muddy) running shoes and decided to just take off.

 I walked down the long gravel road to the paved street that rolls along some fields. I have tried walking and running this stretch before, so I’ve clocked the three miles and figured I’d just do the route again and see how things felt.  As I began, I noticed my two huge dogs lumbering along beside me, their long legs talking them a quarter mile ahead, then they would circle back, head into the trees and return to me. I yelled for them to return home, but they don’t listen to me.  I thought of Sammy on his little leash ,always a foot or two away from my legs and thought, “Man, my life is different now. Everything is exaggerated, bigger, wilder and out of control…. Even my dogs.”

I have two huge dogs. One I absolutely adore who is the perfect dog – respectful, protective, adorable, (Teddy) and one who is a great big pain. She is clumsy, demands attention, is too smart for her own good, and always getting into trouble doing things she darn knows she isn’t allowed to do.

 I was uncomfortable with the dogs roaming so erratically around me, but they are used to being free on 50 acres and have no understanding of good behavior in public. The few times I tried putting them on a leash for a run, but the attempt resulted in more a drag than a run and we didn’t make it a mile before I just gave up and took them home.  

After I was about a mile out I decided to turn around. As I said, I’m out of shape so I decided two miles would be enough of a start forday one.  I crossed the street (BIG mistake) so I would be headed towards incoming traffic. There aren’t many cars on that long stretch, but when they do come along, they barrel by like they are in a speed derby. It’s a country thing. 

There is a horse that lives alone in a huge pasture out there. When I ran this route before, I always stopped to talk to him. Horses are herd animals and shouldn’t be left alone, and I always feel sorry for this one, especially since he runs to the fence when he sees me and whinnies, then runs back and forth along the fence as I jog by.

 No sooner did I pause to talk to the horse, than I noticed my beloved dog (the good one) Teddy’s eyes turn to me as if he was thinking, “She stopped. She must need me.” And at a hundred miles an hour he came charging towards me. Across the street. Oh shit.

 I look up and sure enough there is a truck zooming along r
ight at us. I look up and see the dog, then over to the truck and it is as if everything is going in slow motion. I yell – I guess I was yelling at the dog and the truck at once, God too, but no one slowed down. This is a long open stretch of road, so that truck could damn well have slowed down, and it should have considering there were dogs on both sides of the road, but it didn’t. And ofcourse, my yelling made Teddy want to get to me sooner, so he just sped up.

 And I stood there in horror as I watched the truck slam into my dog. 

I guess another woman might have screamed or cried or something. I just stood there and said “Shit. “ then I said “shit” again. And again, and again, and again. I couldn’t believe how stupid that driver was, and the dog, and ME for crossing the street and pausing to talk to the horse. I should have know the good dog would follow as soon as he noticed me pause.

 A 17-year-old country boy was driving the truck. He got out to check his fender. Meanwhile my dog is screeching in pain, yapping and dragging his backside to the grass by the road, his eyes filled with confusion and pain.

“My dog is dying and he’s checking his fender.” I said to no one in particular. Sometimes my sarcasm leaks out despite how I try to keep it in check. Redhead thing.

The kid heard me, blushed and came and apologized. He kept saying, “I didn’t hit him on purpose.”

“Of course you didn’t. No one would run over a dog on purpose.  But couldn’t you see him running straight across the street?”

 “Well, yea, but I thought he’d stop. When he didn’t, I tried to avoid hitting him.”

He saw the dog? It took everything in me not to call him a dumb countryjackass – but really what good would it do? The kid felt bad. The dog was already hit. My anger wouldn’t have helped this situation in any way.

 The kid just stood there watching me muttering, “shit” under my breath as I tried to check how injured Teddy was. He seemed in such pain, but there was no blood. He couldn’t stand, however.

 I asked the kid if he could help me put the dog in the back of the truck so I could at least get him home. I only lived a mile down the road. The kid was quick to help. I didn’t know  if  we should pick uphe dog, but together we lifted him up. Teddy let out such a pitiful cry I almost cried myself. (Instead I muttered “shit” again. Seemed the perfect expression of my frustration at the time – a description of my life this day.)

 We drove Teddy home and amazingly; he stood up slowly once when we got into the driveway. This was good, it meant he didn’t’ have a broken leg or pelvis or anything, but he was still in pain and couldn’t get out of the truck. When we tired to lift him, he cried again. Finally, we placed him on the ground, and the dog slunk to the bushes by the front door and lay down.

 “Nice house,” the kid said.

“Want to buy it?”

“I wish.”

“You and me both, buddy.”

“You have a pool table?”


“What to sell it?”

“I will when the house goes.”

“Maybe I’ll drive over one of these days when I have cash and you can sell it to me.”

“Yea, and you can see how my dog is doing too.”

“Oh yea. Sorry about that, ya know.”

“I know.”


So the kid drove away and I tried to attend to the dog. It was late on a Sunday now, and the vet was closed, so I decided to observe the animal and wait for Mark to get home to discuss what I should do.  I’m guilty of this – waiting to see how bad something is before acting. I NEVER go to the doctor, never take my kids to the doctor, and rarely run animals to the vet. I trust nature and good sense to repair physical problems. My kids always say someone has to be dying to get medical attention around here, and it’s true. I’m just not an alarmist, even when I probably should be. Anyway, Sunday is the day I cook for family so once the dog was settled I went inside. I rummaged all over to find some pain pills that I thought we had from when our other dog was fixed, but couldn’t find them, so I took the dog water and gave him some love then went to prepare dinner.          

 It was hard to keep my mind on cooking. I made a mediterianian flavored cous cous with shrimp, sautéed scallops in a light orange sauce and grilled a big London broil (for those that don’t like fish) thinking I’d have leftovers for the dog. I made potatoes and honey & lime glazed carrots,ratoutee and a gourmet salad (salad is now my specialty having done a recent study of the art of making a decent salad.) I made a custard with blackberries and raspberries for dessert, but it was like I was on autopilot in the kitchen,and I didn’t enjoy the process. I kept going outside to check on Teddy, thinking he might be dead from internal bleeding or something, but he would wag his tale and look at me with warm eyes. Still, he was hurt because he didn’t get up.

 That night I lay in bed wondering if my dog would be alive in the morning. What if he had internal bleeding or something?  I then got a call that my brother was in the hospital and getting triple bypass surgery in the morning. Any thought I had that I might take the dog to the vet in the morning sort of disappeared because now I was going to drive to Atlanta to see my brother.

 In the morning the dog was fine. Sore, but walking. He winced (yes a dog with as expressive a face as Teddy can do that) if he moved much, but he did get around, and even ate some food. (A good sign).

 It’s been three days now, and the dog is moving a bit more.I’m amazed he survived, much less has rebounded so quickly. The damn truck hit him hard, knocked him ten feet.

But my dog is indestructible, it seems. And still loving and responsive and wags his tale whenever he sees me. I bet if I took off for a run, he’d be trying his best to follow. Amazing a dog can love you without reservations like that. Wish it was that way with people – ha, don’t we all.

 I want to continue running again. I feel my body, heart and mind needs that challenge right now– the sweat and solitude. But you can be darn sure I’m not going to do it around here where my dogs will follow.  I could take what happened as a sign that I really just shouldn’t run in Georgia. I could decide to avoid running altogether because a thing isn’t worth doing if it means hurting the ones who love me, but I’ve decided no more excuses. Maybe I’ll head up to the Ocoee Whitewater center where there are long, beautiful trails along the river. This means getting in a car and driving before I run, which is rather premeditative for me. I’m much more a “lace the shoes and go on the spur of the moment” sort of girl. But you do what you have to do sometimes, like it or not.

 So perhaps I’ll share stories of upcoming runs. But I’m afraid they won’t be with the dog. One thing about Georgia that I’ve discover again and again. I’m really on my own here more often than not. That above all else has been the biggest adjustment of all.


As leaves begin to drift from trees and your breath starts to make fog in the chill air when you bend over to pick up your paper in the morning, there is no denying that fall has come. And that means Ginny is going to have to do something about those turkeys, right? It would be unfair for me to leave you wondering how the great turkey experiment turned out, so today I’ll give you final chapter – or at lease as much of it as I can, thus far.


A few weeks ago, I started feeling what can only be called mild anxiety each time I fed my gigantic toms. My cute, little fuzzy chicks had grown and grown, until now they were the size of a Shetland pony – and they were eating like one too. My three surviving turkeys were plowing through a full 50-pound bag of feed every five days, and still acting starved each time they saw me.  Growing a turkey from scratch can be expensive, and when I added up the cost of the original chick($10.00) along with 6 months of feed, I figured each of my healthy, organic turkeys had demanded about a $150.00 investment so far, and Thanksgiving was still a ways away.  Obviously,organic farming on a small scale is not cost effective, (thus the explanation of industrial farming practices and why they survive despite society’s awareness of the pitfalls to the environment and people’s health – but that is another subject.) So, keeping these birds indefinitely as pets would cost as much as a big dog without half the emotional rewards, (no interest to me, really) besides which, I had promised all along that we would eat these creatures before winter set in. But just looking into their innocent faces made me start to feel guilty, and lets be honest here, there’s no way I’m ever going to lift a hand to harm a creature –despite all my bravado.

Mark has insisted he could find someone to slaughter the three birds for us for Thanksgiving if I would be willing to allow the person to keep one, and I agreed that would be fair.  If you are going to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, you can’t decide the poor sod’s miserable life (the one you bought from the grocery store) doesn’t count as much as the bird you know. That’s a double standard. But still, the fact that I could agree to do it doesn’t mean I like the idea of sending my adored birds off to slaughter.

Nevertheless, I was still grateful I had embraced the great turkey experiment. I am curious about the world, and I rather learn about it through experience than just having an intellectual understanding of things gained from books or school– and I now have hands on understanding on the life cycle of the turkey. I know what these birds look like as babies, then adolescents, and finally, as adults. I know when their white mask face starts turning bluish,and when the little nub on their beak grows long and flops over, hanging towards the ground all wrinkled and pink like a stretched out gizzard growing on the outside. Icky.  I have picked up decorative turkey feathers for safekeeping, touched a turkey’s rubbery head, and observed turkey behavior day after day. I know how a turkey’s voice sounds, how it changes as they mature and the way it cracks like a prepubescent boy’s voice when they first start to gobble. I know at what stage their hormones kick in and the boys start to puff up and primp for the girls, vying for their attention. These are things you could never truly grasp, not the visual and sensual experience, by reading a book or seeing bunch of turkeys in a pen on a farm some weekend afternoon. More importantly, I’ve learned how cute a turkey could be. They have this silly waddle when they walk or run, because their legs are sprawled, barely able to support their body mass.  They are fearless, and will walk between your legs or rub against your arm when you crouch down to fill their bowl. They grow attached to whoever is feeding them, and tend to follow you about like a dog. Their trusting innocence is endearing.

So, as you can imagine, I now had this huge dilemma – a true fondness for my three birds. They are ungraceful and dirty, and they eat like a pig, true, but that describes most of the men I’ve known (and loved) so it’s not these traits are enough to justify slaughtering them. (The men reading this sigh in relief.)   

 I decided to just ignore the situation, Scarlett O’Harastyle, and worry about that tomorrow. Thanksgiving was still a month away, after all. Perhaps I’d come up witha solution – or more aptly, the bravery to act on a solution. But nature must have sensed my problem and taken pity on me, because she decided to take matters into her own hands.

A few weeks ago, in the morning,  I went to feed my birds and spied feathers spread out all over the grounds. Turkey feathers. White. Uh Oh. Not that I was surprised. My big fat toms had a habit of sleeping on the ground near the chicken house because they are fat and thus uncomfortable perching up high and they’ve never tried going into the hen house. I’ve always known this made them sitting ducks for prey, but what ya gonna do?  Something, a fox perhaps, had decided to have his thanksgiving feast early. I took stock. My girl turkey was sleeping on top of a chicken pen, and one of the boys was running towards me with that hungry lookin his eyes. It was my biggest, most robust Tom that had been taken down. Figures.

 I looked about to see if their were any remains, and sure enough, the bulk of a turkey carcass was sitting way out in the pasture by the creek. Now, picking up the remains of a little chicken that has been snagged in the night is one thing. I was not up for picking up 50 pounds of mauled turkey. Besides which, I had to go to work. So, I left him there, hoping whatever was hungry enough to attack and eat him last night might come finish the job the next night.  And whatever it was did. Thank you very much.

Now, I was worried about my two surviving turkeys, but I confess, a part of me was sort of OK with what had happened. I’ve been accepting of the circle of life ever since that song grabbed me in that disney movie, and I don’t feel negligent considering the birds are being well cared for and they have shelter, even though instinct drives them to sleep elsewhere.  Three turkeys is a lot of turkeys to care for and worry about. Two, I could handle.  And a fox has to eat too. So, that’s that.

Until, a few days later I arrived to find more feathers scattered about.  Tom number two had hit the dust. Whatever was eating my birds certainly selected the biggest and best for himself each time.  I didn’t see any of the remains, but I did start to feel pretty badly for my last remaining female. Was that loneliness and anxiety I was reading in her eyes, or was I projecting those feelings because I’ve had them too lately? Humm….

That night, I went to the barnyard late to feed the horses. I felt a need to check on things – concerned for my last turkey. When I didn’t see her anywhere, I assumed the worst. She is a huge white bird, so usually, I can spot here easily in the night, huddled on top of the short chicken pen. The fact that she sleeps off the ground is the rea
son she survived beyond the others, no doubt, (Girls are so often the smart ones, you must agree) but if a hunter is hungry enough, it will crawl up to get her, I know.  

Just as I was feeling that sad acceptance, I spotted something white peeking over the roof of the chicken house. There she was. Barb, my female turkey. Hiding 9 feet in the air behind the pointed roof. Ha. She must have witnessed both her boys being dragged off and thought, “Well, that ain’t happen’ in to me.” So she took it upon herself to find higher ground. Now, she sleeps there every night.

 So, I have one female turkey that hangs with the chickens now. She is sweet and healthy – and other than being lonely, seems well adjusted enough. Considering the trauma she has been under, I’m going to just leave her be.  She’s earned it. And all’s well that ends well because there is only one thing about turkeys I didn’t get to experience, and that is holding a turkey egg, cooking it and seeing how it differs from chicken, peacock or duck eggs. Birds lay eggs even without a male around to fertilize it, so if she survives, this spring I’ll still have one last turkey discovery to make. Turkey egg omlets. I’d like that.

 Like all life experiences, it will depend on nature and fate. And luck. 

A horse of the same color

Yesterday, I got a new horse. I exchanged my 8 year old high
bred, gorgeous saddle bred pinto with blue eyes and the sweetest disposition
ever, for a plain grey quarter horse that was once owned by a cowboy. Tough on
the heart to let one go, let me tell you. This new horse (named Nuther Bandit on his
registration papers) is calm, shy and rides western style (we prefer English,
ah well) like a charm. He hasn’t got half the style or flash of my beloved
pinto, Joy, or even as delightful a personality, but he is solid, easy to
handle and I expect it’s only a matter of time until we will build a report.
He’s sweet, but aloof, so much so that he spends his day at the opposite end of
the pasture as Peppy (who could be his twin in looks) and donkey.
  Since they are herd animals, horses
usually stick together, so I suppose it will just take time for Bandit to feel
at home and accepted and a part of the equestrian family.

I suppose I should want a horse that looks different from the one I have, but for some reason, I like that my two are now a matched set. The only complaint is that when I look out the window, I’m not always sure which animal I’m seeing. There are subtle differences in the horses, but you have to be close to note them. They are both geldings, both considered “grey” though they are mostly white with light freckles on the neck. Both have warm brown eyes and their main and tail are the same length. Both even have the same georgia clay red stain in their hair. I should get some bleach and work on that one of these days. The new horse is a bit beat up with bits and scratches on his backside – must have been the underdog in his last pasture, but in time I’ll get him sleek and healthy. 

Peppy looks across the pasture wondering why the heck there is a new horse over there . Hummm….. that other fellow sure is handsome. . . . he reminds me of someone, but I can’t figure out who. (Meanwhile, donkey blinks wondering if he needs glasses cause he’s seeing double. He wonders if it time to lay off the weeds…..) 

Cautiously, they’ve begun to make friends, wondering if they have anything in common.  

Yesterday, I ran home after teaching a packed morning yoga
class to see how he was doing. I put my muck boots on to trek through the creek
to where he was standing and gave him some carrots. I’m guilty of feeding
animals (and people) to make them love me.
  He let me scratch his ears and looked me in the eyes as if
he was assessing whether I was worthy of his friendship. I assured him I was.

 Bandit has been set out in a pasture for the last 6 years,
only coming in to ride occasionally. He’s never set foot in a barn or stall,
and never been fed anything but grass and hay. I will have to be gentle in
introducing him to the finer lifestyle that includes shelter when the weather
is bad and some grain. His good nature is evident in the fact that he can go a
year without being ridden, and then he behaves perfectly when he’s saddled up.
This is exactly what I need. A bomb proof, consistent horse. The reason we
never ride in this family is because we have only one perfect horse and one
beautiful, wild creature that only I can get on. When Neva has a friend over,
they beg to ride, but since I can’t put a child on Joy, and taking turns on one
horse is no fun, we end up skipping it altogether. Now, Neva can ride with
friends, or when non-riding friends come to visit, they can go out for a spin
on the horses safely.
 All I have
to do is get over my ego – I happened to like owning a flashy, drop dead
impressive horse. Ah well. The outside of an animal (and a person) isn’t what
counts – what’s important is what’s inside and how animal (or person) enhances
or drains your life.
  Can’t cling
to things for the wrong reason.

 I’ve made arrangements with a teen with lots of riding and
showing experience (her mother owns a horse ranch) to trade dance lessons for
riding lessons. She will be coming each week to give Neva a riding lesson using
our two horses, which means both my horses will get exercise and continual
riding to keep in shape. Perfect! And with Neva feeling more confident on a
horse, she will ride more, which means keeping these animals will make sense.
Meanwhile, this little girl with the perfect dance body and good mind will be
taking teen hip-hop and lyrical. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

 The person who chose to do this horse trade with me is
shocked and delighted that I went for it. She is, after all, getting a horse
worth 3 or 4 times the one she is trading. But Joy is only valuable if she is
trained, and I am not qualified to train her, nor do I want to invest thousands
of dollars for someone else to do the job. In effect, she is not worth much to
me as is, but the other horse has inherent value, and so this trade is fair and
equal. Anyone who studies economics knows that the right price is determined by
equilibrium – supply verses demand.
What is nice is that we are both very pleased with our new horses. She
has a horse that will be a challenge, but after she puts in the time and
effort, will be a great investment. I have a horse more like what I was
promised when I was shopping for an animal – one that anyone can ride.

Deep down, I had this lurking fear that I’d get hurt riding Joy,
so I was overly cautious with her, not digging in to give her the work she
needs. Not that I’m afraid of a fall or two, but I’m no spring chicken and I
hear stories of people landing wrong and being paralyzed or out of commission
for months. I love to ride, but face it; I’m not interested in huge equestrian
challenges. I only ride for pleasure. It is more about the sun and wind on my
face, the feel of a warm creature under me and birds overhead, than putting a
horse through the paces.

 So once again, my animal world has shifted. I no longer have
the llamas or angoras, but I have 40 chickens, 3 turkeys, 2 peacocks and some
ducks with great personality. I’ve got donkey, of course, and now two gentle
quarter horses that could be bookends they look so similar.
  It is the right amount of
responsibility for me – just enough get me outside everyday and to enjoy
nature, but not so much that I feel inundated with maintenance. I’m still loving
our country lifestyle, but it is nice to have a new business to grow and I’ve
missed dance and the energy that surrounds
 kids, music and movement.

 Finding just the right balance takes time, but when you get
there, you start to feel so much more comfortable.






Spring on the Farm

told I’m a terrible blogger, because I’m supposed to write more regularly, and
keep it short and to the point. But I write when I feel inspired, and then I write
essays with too much introspection. So shoot me. I’ll try to adhere to proper
blogging standards from now on for all those friends with the short attention
span, but for all that I understand the appeal of brief blogs, I can’t help but
think if all you’re doing is sending out short reports of what goes on in your
days, what is the point? Does anyone really care what I had for lunch today?

 Anyway – It’s spring, and I am long overdue on a farm update. Here goes.

 As the winter began to fade, I was bummed that my female
peacock no longer had a mate. Peacocks are not like chickens that lay eggs all
year round. Peafowl (the official term for a peacock) only lay in season, and I
knew spring was coming and I’d have some unfertilized peacock eggs soon – and
we already know my family freaks out when I feed them a peacock omelet.

 So when a friend ran across a gorgeous male peacock for sale
at a flea market and sensed he could talk the seller down to a slick 80 bucks (I guess
the global economy crash has affected the peacock market as well) he called
Mark and asked if he should pick it up for me. Mark made arrangements, and I
came home from a yoga seminar to an unexpected bonus birthday gift. I was

 I named the new bird Elmer, (because I want this one to
stick around). Elmer adjusted to his new digs quickly enough and began
spreading his tail and flirting with Prism (my female) and I was privy to more
than a few peep shows of peacock passion.
Spring came and Prism began laying eggs, (which I can attest are
fertilized) and she’s been sitting now for two weeks.

 Yesterday, I pushed her aside (which made her really cranky)
to check out the nest. There are 5 peacock eggs under her, and two chicken eggs
from my dopey Rhode Island Red that is always laying her eggs in the wrong
  I removed the measly
chicken eggs because chickens hatch in 21 days and peacocks in 31, and Prism
won’t know the difference – once chicks hatch a mother will only wait two more
days before abandoning the nest to raise her young. Can’t have her bailing on
the baby peacocks just to raise more trouble-making Rhode Island Reds.

 I was standing there with these two half developed eggs in
my hand in a moral dilemma. I could throw them into the woods for some creature
to eat, but they were probably only a few days from hatching and that felt a
little like murder.
  So, I shoved
them under one of my nesting chickens, but as I drew my hand away, I heard a
slight peeping. I looked closer at her eggs. One was cracked and a new chick
was making its premiere. Cool. This morning I checked again and there are three
healthy chicks in the nest, and a few more eggs still under her that may or may
not hatch. This will make the third chicken I have raising a few
spring chicks – not that I need more chickens, but I can’t resist the pleasure
of watching motherhood in process. I have them in cages all over the place. Crazy, but fun. 

 My turkeys are huge, stupid and totally attached to me. They
throw themselves against the side of the cage when I walk by, trying to follow
me. The plan to eat them is curling up at the edges, as you probably knew it
would. Meanwhile, they are stinky and rather a nuisance to raise. I don’t know
what the heck I’m going to do with them. I thought of putting them in my huge
chicken run, but they are simply too messy– perhaps I’ll just open the cage
door and see how they fare roaming wild around the barn. But first I’ll wait
until they are fully-grown. I want to hear them gobble and see them all puffed
up like the preening turkeys you see on thanksgiving décor before anything
happens to them. Seeing them change and grow and interact is half the fun.

 I am forever starting animal projects out of curiosity, then
cursing myself because I want to scale back rather than get more involved. Ah
well – might as well enjoy this stage of life while I can. I’m quite sure I won’t be
playing around a barn forever.

 My Angora rabbit had a litter and I took all eight beautiful
babies to the feed store to swap for a store credit. They sell the rabbits for
50.00 each, but I am given 10.00– which is perfectly fine with me. I really
just want to find the rabbits a good home. I even wrote a two page “how to care
and feed your angora rabbit” document to go home with each pet. Linda, the store owner, laughed at me for being so worried about their fate.  Originally, I
planned the litter because I wanted a second female angora, but on second
thought, I decided to adhere to my “scale back” plan. So I also gave the store
one of my adult male angoras to sell. I go into the store everyday to visit him (and whisper apologies into his cage for sending him away).
Then I pick out plants for my new garden to use my credit – plants are a
temporary responsibility and I’m leaning in that direction now. Got some big rhubarb plants last
week and stuck them in the ground in my new raised beds. Maybe by next year I’ll
be trying out some of those rhubarb recipes I keep cutting out of Gourmet
magazine. I’m ready for some new cooking exploits, and the best part is, if the Rhubarb isn’t happy, I won’t feel any guilt about it.

 This is getting too long, and I imagine my readers are starting to crinkle their brow as they think “get on with it” – so I’ll wrap it up.

My llamas are for sale, but I haven’t gotten any calls. I’m
committed to having fewer creatures to care for by winter, but scaling back is heart wrenching. I really love my young llama, so I’m on the fence with this
whole “lose the llamas” thing.
 I’ll let fate decide.

I’m selling one of my two horses – the high-spirited, high maintenance
one. I’ll keep the quarter horse as long as I live in Georgia. That animal owns
my heart. One horse is a joy. Two is simply too much work.

Donkey is fine, and remains my favorite. He’ll be the last
animal standing in Ginny’s world.

 Speaking of donkey, I should write about my book (entitled,
My Million Dollar Donkey). It rests with four agents now, and another spoke
with me at a seminar last week and asked me to rewrite the opening (she was
giving me a critique) and said she would like to see the entire book after I
make some suggested changes. So, as always, it is still a waiting game. I could
talk more about my writing, it’s going well – but that would break my new blog
rule, so you’ll have to wait.

Had lunch with Kathy last week. Great to see her, but she won’t  be returning to her reading studies anytime soon. That is one project that ran it’s course. Sniff.



The Great Turkey Experiment

I embarked on a new personal challenge yesterday. I call it, “The Great Turkey Experiment”.

I brought home five adorable, three-week-old turkey chicks. Three of these chirping innocents are bronze turkeys, the kind that will grow up to look like the traditional birds featured in your average Thanksgiving décor. The other two are a less hefty breed of turkey that will grow up to be snow white with a more delicate physique. The personal challenge? I’ve got six months to work up the courage to eat them. If I can’t do it, I’m going to become a vegetarian. It’s the principal of the matter. 

Ever since we bought farmland and embarked on this journey towards a self-sustaining lifestyle, my relationship with food and the environment has changed. Eating locally, choosing organic foodstuffs, and recycling is all the rage now, so naturally I’ve joined the ranks of all the other enlightened Americans who carry cloth bags to the supermarket to carry home pricey “certified organic” produce and “free range” chicken breasts. Must do my part to save the planet and embrace a healthier lifestyle like all other cool kids in class, don’t ya know.

I’ve even taken the commitment a step further by planting a large, diverse garden to provide fresh food for our meals. I can or freeze anything we don’t eat immediately, assuring we have organic, homegrown grown food all year. My larder is filled with jars of homemade salsa, pickles, jelly, applesauce, and tomato sauce, not to mention jugs of homegrown honey and wine. Add to that my thirty free-range chickens providing anywhere from one to two dozen eggs each day and you could say I’m making decent headway in the organic, eco-friendly lifestyle ideal.  We eat locally grown food without so much as a gallon of gas devoted to the cause.  How’s that for lowering your carbon-footprint?  

The problem is, eating homegrown veggies and eggs is a good start, but it still avoids the most serious environmental and health hazard attached to our food processing systems today – industrial farming. My hobby farm interests have led me to environmentally conscientious reading material. I devour magazines such as Organic Gardening, Hobby Farms, and Mother Earth News and books such as the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. These sources not only teach a reader how to successfully grow salad in the backyard, but increase awareness of the horrors of mass produced food, including those deemed “organic” or “free range”, sad to say.

So, inch-by-inch, I’ve waded deeper into the waters of self-sufficiency so I can verify the origins of my food and consume without guilt. My homegrown beans paved the way for homegrown eggs and honey. Next I bought half a cow and half a pig from a farmer friend. It was a poignant experience to watch the animals grazing lazily in the field knowing that six months later they would be resting in my freezer, but witnessing their natural existence, a life of fresh air, green grass, and a lifespan three times that of forcefully-fattened, factory raised animals alleviated any guilt I had about their impending demise. The grass fed, hormone-free meat provided us with months of guilt-free meals, though I admit I missed the classic perfection of cuts of beef packaged and designed to appeal to the picky consumer. Nevertheless, I cooked the local, organic meat ignoring its imperfection, with reverence and respect for the creatures whose lives were given to nourish my family. But my willingness to do so didn’t help me shake the memory of their doe-like eyes or the way the sun bounced off their soft fur coats, lulling them into a lazy afternoon nap. Without intending to, I started giving up red meat, turning my attention more and more to poultry and fish, creatures with less personality in my opinion.

 Then I had the misfortune of pulling up behind a chicken truck. It was stacked with hundreds of wire cages; each filled with half a dozen chickens stuffed into the two-foot space allotted them. Most of the birds lacked feathers, which I knew was because chickens cannibalize each other when raised without ample space or diversions. They were despondent. Some actually looked dead. Faced with this tangible evidence of the plight of factory-farmed chickens I paused the next time I reached for a chicken nugget. Factory farmed chickens are fed chemical laced food to fight off disease, have a short six week lifespan, and the trip to slaughter house in a speeding truck where the cold air steals their breath may be the only natural sunshine they ever witness. Every time I buy chicken from the grocery store, or order it in a restaurant, I’m supporting this barbaric system, and suddenly grilled cheese or Tuna sandwiches are all that’s left on my idea of a moral menu. Even buying “free range” doesn’t guarantee the creatures live a natural life, because these birds also live in crowded conditions and all a company need do is provide an 8 by 8 concrete pad for them to step outside on for perhaps an hour a day to qualify as “free range”. Labels can be misleading.

My chickens at home live full, pleasurable lives, but still it’s easier for me to buy Purdue chickens, neatly packaged and trimmed up for consumption, than to consider the alternative. I just can’t imagine myself being the instrument of any animal’s demise, which is why I have laying chickens, rather than broilers-fryers at home.  Eggs are a perfect excuse for not slaughtering chickens, don’t ya know.

But more and more often, I’m experiencing mixed feelings over my willingness to support industrial farm practices because it is “convenient” to do so. I should just become a vegetarian, and I would, if only I didn’t happen to like eating meat so much.  So how do I balance my ethics regarding what I consume?

When you raise a goat, hog or cow, you can load it in a trailer, take it to the butcher and pick it up later wrapped up in neat, white paper. If you don’t want to raise the beast yourself, you can always find someone willing to sell you half a steer around here, and knowing the animal lived a life of dignity makes eating it seem less barbaric. Unfortunately, there’s no such service for poultry. It just wouldn’t be cost efficient or practical to cart a bird to someone else to dress, so eating homegrown poultry involves raising, killing, blanching and plucking the beast yourself. Frankly, that pushes my inner farm-girl beyond the limits of what’s comfortable or fun – afterall, taking up poultry slaughtering would be difficult on my perfectly polished, acrylic nails, not to mention that it will no doubt give me nightmares.

But eating in this hypocritical way continues to haunt me. The fact is, a creature dies every time we order a chicken potpie, and trying to remain distanced from that reality is like sprinkling Novocain on your dinner instead of salt. I think an important part of the human experience involves being fully aware and conscious of our choices and how they impact the world at large. Choosing to distance ourselves from our food sources is ignorance in its most offensive form.

So, after two seasons of thinking about it, and months of questioning my own mettle, I’ve presented myself with the great Turkey Challenge. I’m told turkeys are stupid, smelly beasts and it’s unlikely I’ll grow fond of them. That said, when the time comes, I’ll should be ready and able to shout “Off with their heads!” like the Queen of Hearts. And yet . . . they sure are cute, shy creatures now, peeping away in their cage with absolute innocence, so I wonder . . .   will I’ll end up with five turkey pets for years to come?

Least you get the impression that I’m planning to begin a lifetime campaign of raising all my own food and slaughtering every future holiday meal in my backyard, let me assure you that while it would be admirable, becoming a serious farmer isn’t my long-term plan. I can’t see devoting a good chunk of my life to the manual labor of beheading and plucking poultry, even if I’m willing and able. But I do want to see if I can do it once, as a way of exploring the origins of my food sources. Raising and slaughtering a bird, being instrumental to its life and death, will alter how, when, where and if I purchase certain foods forevermore. Somehow I feel being a part of the process from start to finish will earn me the right to eat poultry. If I can’t stomach carving my Thanksgiving turkey because I am all too aware that he was once a creature that fluffed his feathers and looked up when I said good morning with a bucket of feed, than I shouldn’t be eating turkey anyway. I’ll become a vegetarian, and in that way, live true to my newly clarified ideals.

Call me crazy, but I need more than an academic understanding of what life is all about – I want to explore the human experience firsthand, without avoiding anything considered “unpleasant” because clinging to blissful ignorance is more comfortable. People have ventured so far from nature’s original design in their rush to embrace the neat, pre-packaged, commercial world that I sometimes wonder if we’ve all become too lost to ever find our way back to what is natural and real.

So, in six months, I’ll either slaughter my first (and perhaps only) turkey . . . or I won’t. What you are willing to do theoretically and what you will do in reality is often worlds apart.  But I’m not going to pass judgment about what is right or wrong regarding human consumption until I’ve experienced firsthand what the issue entails. So in the interest of testing my environmental and ethical ideals, I’ve set up the great Turkey Experiment.

You, lucky reader, can start placing your bets.

A new Llama at last

    Yesterday, I got up at 3:30 am and started working on my book. Couldn’t sleep. I usually go down to the barn at about 6am, but I was on a roll, so I worked until 8am before deciding to go feed the animals. When I went down, Pulani was acting strange. She was humming frantically and pacing the stall. She attacked her food, but then left it to pace some more. I noticed her stomach was quivering. 
    This is it! She’s in labor! I decided. I went to scoop some horse food thinking I’d toss it into their buckets and run up to the house to get Neva. Together we could watch the baby llama come into the world.
   As I stepped around the corner, there was a baby llama, staring at me with wide curious eyes, his legs wobbling beneath him.  He still had a bit of membrane on his head, so I knew he was only hours old.
   “Oh, hello, I said softly, edging up close, marveling at his size and newness. “What are you doing out here all alone? I think your mommy is missing you. Don’t you think you should return to the stall?” (Figures the first and only day I didn’t go to the barn at the crack of dawn was the day he arrived. Darn.)
     The little guy wasn’t sure what to make of me. He tried to step away, but thanks to his wobbly legs, I closed in fast, picked him up and carried him back to poor, nervous Pulani. He weighed almost nothing and was a docile as a lamb. His soft fur felt like one too.

His head was the size of my fist, his neck graceful and long. His ears were perky, his eyes slanted and long lashed. His feet looked like they wee on backwards because the pads of his feet look like the same two toe houves that show when standing. He was perfect! 

 Smart too. Apparently, an hour after being born he was already curious about the world so he just ducked down and easily slipped out of the corral to explore. I could swoon thinking of all the things that might have happened to him, exposed when so small and helpless. Pulani must have been thinking the same thing, because she was very relieved to get him back. I closed the door to the outer corral so the two would be contained in the small inner stall and watched. 

    I’ve been very concerned about whether or not Pulani would feed her baby, because she was sold to me by a frustrated owner that claimed she was a bad mother when she had her first offspring.
     I waited, hoping she’d start feeding the baby. Nothing happened. Uh Oh. I zipped up to get Mark on my mule and he came back to the barn with me. Still no feeding going on, so I decided to intervene. Somehow, I felt safer knowing someone nearby to help if Pulani went nuts.
   “Here I go,” I whispered as I slowly went into the stall.
    Pulani folded her ears back and lifted her chin, a warning. I tied a lead rope to her halter and handed it to Mark. I had to cauterize the umbilical chord, so I caught the baby, turned it over (no easy feat) and laid the young llama down on a towel so I could dip the gooey string hanging off his belly button into a cup of iodine. This gave me the opportunity to check the baby’s sex.
  “That’s a boy, don’t ya think? Doesn’t that little thing look like a baby llama penis?” I asked.
    Mark peered over the fence. “Yea maybe. I don’t know. Could be. It’s small.”
     I stare at the little nugget between the baby’s legs. It’s the size of a marble. “What else could it be? It’s gotta be a boy. Llamas don’t have balls, ya know.”
    “Actually, I didn’t know that.”
     “It’s a boy.”
    “If you say so.” 
     A boy was a slight disappointment. for all that I love the idea of Dalai having a son in his image,  I can’t keep these llamas together indefinitely. In six months a boy will try to mate with Mom. Not good. If it was a girl, they could have remained companions forever. Now, I’ll have to keep them apart or sell one or both.
   Mark pulled on the lead rope to wedge Pulani up to the wall so she couldn’t move.
   I confess, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from a llama mother so soon after she gave birth. But I was damn sure not going to let her ignore another circa and let it wither and die. I started massaging her utters. She kicked a bit, and started making this mean growling sound that was so ominous it actually made Mark and I both laugh (nervously). I pulled and massaged and tweaked under her belly, but nothing came out.
    “She’s totally dry,” I cried. “I can’t get any milk to squeeze out.”
     “Are you milking her right?”
     “How would I know? I’ve never even milked a cow. Want to try?”
     Mark’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, “Not on your life.”
      I grabbed the baby and tried to force its head under the mother. He would have none of that, and Pulani didn’t act very open to the idea either. She kept moving away, kicking and growling. Now what?
      Mark insisted nature would take its course and I should just wait and see. I would have felt the same had I not been told that Pulani already turned a baby away once. Perhaps she didn’t feed it because she couldn’t produce milk. It didn’t feel like she had any, but she was nuzzling the baby and acting protective. At least that was a good sign.
    It was a Sunday, so the feed store wouldn’t open until noon. I decided to wait until then before I started panicking. I went back to the house and called the only person I knew who might give me answers, a woman who owns a llama breeding farm. Her husband does my sheering each spring.  We talked for an hour and she gave me encouragement and advice, telling me to buy a baby bottle and give the baby cow’s milk if nothing else. She told me to cauterize the umbilical chord again, because this was vital to it not getting infected. She also said it was too bad I had a boy, because I could bottle feed a newborn llama if necessary, but bottle-fed males get what’s called “Crazy llama syndrome” (and I had already read about that) where the male llamas that get too much handling when young imprint on humans. When they grow they get aggressive, attacking (even mounting) humans. Sometimes you even have to put them down because you can’t fix the unnatural behavior.
    “Will I have to tube feed this baby?” I asked, dreading the idea of plunging a tube down its throat and filling his stomach with food.
     “Let’s hope not,” the woman said, “That’s dangerous. I’ve raised hundreds of llamas and I’ve never had the nerve to try it.” She went on to share stories of baby llamas she successfully has raised without the mother, and I got off the phone feeling better, or at least not so quite alone in my llama trauma.
     I went back to the barn. The baby was licking the walls and acting hungry. Pulani was ignoring it. Damn. At noon, I went to the feed store and bought a baby lamb nipple which can be screwed onto a coke bottle and some starter milk that has colostrums for newborn livestock. I picked up a tub of dry goats milk just in case. I went home and warmed up the solution, prepared a bottle and marched into the stall determined to get that baby to eat. Pulani stomped around me, putting her nose on my head, but she didn
’t spit or act any more aggressive than that. I pried the baby’s mouth open and forced the bottle in. He didn’t know how to suck, and just chewed it, his tongue darting out as if he couldn’t’ understand what this eating thing was all about. Mark showed up and watched, encouraging me on.

   I guess the taste of that milk triggered his instinct. Suddenly that baby llama was hungry. Starving. He broke away and joined his mother. He started circling her, putting his nose to her neck and thighs. Pulani knew what he was trying to do, so she started pushing his head with her neck to her hindquarters. After about five minutes of the baby acting like a blind calf and the exasperated mother trying to help him figure it out, he finally found his way under his mother. I was still in the stall, so I stood frozen to the side hoping my presence wouldn’t interfere. Mark whispered that it was working. Suddenly, we hear a sucking sound. Could it be there was milk in them there utters?

    I silently slipped out of the stall . The baby would pull away, but kept returning to feed, and Mark and I figured he wouldn’t bother if Pulani wasn’t producing. I guess the fact that I couldn’t’ milk her didn’t mean she didn’t have milk. The slurping sound was heartening, the sight of sweet newborn nursing tender .

   Throughout the day, I continued to visit the baby. He ate every hour or so, just as he was supposed to. Yippee!

    I was intending to name this baby Dalai (or Dolly) after dad, but we decided he deserved a name that was a combination of both Mom and Dad, so we’ve named him Pauli (Paul-ee). It suits him.
  He came out smaller than I expected. I thought a baby llama would be more like a baby horse. Mark said it came out bigger than he expected. What did he think it would be, a puppy? All I know is  Pauli is delicate, and hasn’t much to him but a pair of long legs. He’s smaller than the dogs (natural enemies), and too curious for his own good, so I have to watch him very carefully. Yesterday, he got stuck in the barn gate trying to slip out again.  I plan to staple mesh around the outer corral so he can’t escape again, yet has room to move about. If he’s that determined to roam when he’s only an hour old, imagine how determined he’ll be in a few weeks. Nevertheless, Pulani and he deserve space, fresh air and sunshine if I want to keep them contained for several months, and considering his size, I feel I must.

I had hoped our new llama might have more color, some recessive gene that would surprise me by coming out an appaloosa or brown llama, but he’s black, the spitting image of Dalai, even with the same slight touch of white on his chin and a dab on his forehead.  I guess that is sweet too. He isn’t shy, and Pulani is now calm, acting like a much nicer llama. I couldn’t be more pleased.

I wanted this baby to come so I keep going down at the barn every hour waiting for the birth. Now that he’s here, I’m down at the barn every hour anyway just to stare at the miraculous creature that so quickly claimed my heart. I think Pulani and I are in agreement for once. Pauli was worth the wait. Now that we’ve become friends, we will enjoy raising him together.


Llama liason

      Each day, I go down to the barn to visit Pulani, who has been confined in a double stall for six weeks now. I enter the stall. We stare at each other. She pins her ears back. I stick my tongue out at her. She lifts her head as high as she can, her nose straight up in the air so she will be taller than her opponent. In her mind, this establishes her superiority. It’s  as aggressive as she gets and all it does it make her look silly, so I don’t’ take offense. My scars have long since healed from the wrestling match of catching her, but there is a lingering distrust on both of our parts, so we proceed carefully.
     Thus begins the dance of taming a llama. I walk slowly around the room and she sidesteps away. I corner her and pat her back while she nervously keeps her face away. This contact is more than we’ve had for the entire past year together, so I revel in the feel of her thick wool and the muscle under her coat. Her skin shivers under my palm and her eyes dart around nervously. I let my hand slide down to her belly, hoping to feel something exciting, but this usually makes her kick so I pull away in respect to her anxious state.
   For ten days I’ve been going into her stall to grab her halter, clip a lead rope to it, then wind the rope around a slat in the fence so I can pull her face up close to confine movement. I proceed to pry her mouth open with a syringe to squirt medicine down her throat, and wait until she swallows it. The sour paste was given to me by the vet to get her to produce milk for her baby. Of course, when he demonstrated giving it to her, Pulani had been given a tranquilizer, so it looked easy. The first time I tried on my own, it took me half an hour to catch her and another half an hour to figure out a creative solution to getting the paste into her mouth. Each attempt became easier, partly because I became more coordinated with the system, and partly because she started to accept that I wouldn’t leave until she ate the stuff. At long last, I’ve finished giving her the entire prescription. 
     Pulani’s due date to have her baby came and went over a month ago. I kept careful records of the breeding and had arranged my entire summer around the event, so I was more than a little annoyed as the days dragged on and there was no baby. I stared at her in the stall, thinking she didn’t even look pregnant. Perhaps the mating didn’t take. It’s unheard of to keep a male and female llama in a pasture and not have the female get pregnant, but leave it to Pulani to be so ornery that she’d turn away her mate. 
   In the meantime, I had pressing commitments looming that I had scheduled under the assumption I’d free after July 10th. I had to go with Neva to Girl Scout Camp for four days, and I’d paid for a four day trip to Vegas with some nice bells and whistles for Mark’s birthday. Each time, I left Denver to care for the animals with a signed check for the vet and a DVD on llama birthing “just in case”.
    She would look at me with total disbelief and say, “Are you kidding me? You wouldn’t dare leave me here if she was really going to go into labor!”
      “It’s just in case. She wouldn’t dare have that baby without me. Trust me.” But a part of me thought my belligerent llama was just waiting for me to go to have her baby. But the trips came and went and still, no baby llama.
         Since Pulani’s entire purpose was to be a companion to the late Dali, and she didn’t seem to be pregnant, I decided to sell her.
       I wrote an add for the classifieds and stuck it on the visor of my car. It hovered over my head for days, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to drop it off at the paper. In the back of my mind I thought she still might be pregnant, and it would be irresponsible to sell a pregnant llama without disclosure. Besides which, my only hope of retaining a piece of Dali was that baby, so I couldn’t send Pulani away unless I was sure. I hadn’t scheduled a vet checkup for my horses for a year, so I called him out to give everyone their shots and to give Pulani a pregnancy check.
         Sure enough, the vet said she was pregnant and would have the baby within two weeks. “Llama’s don’t foal on cue like horses. They have their babies when they are good and ready”, he said.  That was two weeks ago. 
     So now, I’m driving down to the barn about four times a day. Waiting. Waiting.
    I say, “Have that baby, dammit.”
    She sticks her nose in the air as if to say, “Make me.”
    A former student, now 30, who recently opened her own small studio in Florida, came up to visit for a few days to pick my brain about dance. I warned her that she was welcome to come, but I’d make her join me in the llama delivery if the time came.
    She just laughed and said, “After dancing with you and Mark for a dozen years, nothing you’d make me do would come as a shock. Just promise you won’t blog about me if I make a fool of myself.”
     “I never would do such a thing!” I said, with a devious grin making me look like The Grinch when he told Cindy Loo Hoo that he was only going to fix her christmas tree before stuffing it up the chimney. 
    We have another ex-student from Jill’s generation now living in Atlanta (Jamie), so we called her to come over and visit too. We barbequed and had a wine tasting party and slugged down my cordials, having a grand old time swapping old stories and new, laughing, screaming and teasing eachother so loudly we shook the roof. But no baby. I really thought my having provided an audience would have inspired Pulani, but she still held out, much to everyone’s disappointment. I had my guests primed and ready for some unique entertainment. Ah well. 
    Pulani is starting to act bored, hormonal and lonely in that barn. I can tell she is glad to see me no matter how standoffish she acts. She’s started moaning whenever she sees me and she follows me as I do my chores, pacing inside and out to watch me work. I think she is at long last ready to get this ordeal over so she can return to her pasture. She had finially realized I am the one with the decision making power, so she isn’t nearly as snobbish as she was a month ago.
    For example, I’ve been trying for a month to get her to take a cookie out of my hand, but she always refuses, so I drop the treat into her bin. I keep my eyes downcast so I appear less of a threat, and keep my head low (this is how I trained Dali to take my treats) but to no avail. I also started holding her grain in a scoop over the fence, making her take the first few bites from the end of my arm before pouring it into her bin. All the nearness must have paid off. Last week, she tentatively took a piece of carrot from my fingers, and then suddenly, she got over any fear of being fed by hand. Now, she leans her head over the fence for cookies or carrots every time she sees me. She can be downright aggressive for attention.
    So it seems we’re coming to terms with each other, developing an odd relationship built on respect, curiosity and cookies.  She looks cumbersome and uncomfortable despite the fans I’ve set up in the barn to keep her cool. Thanks to the medicine, she should be producing milk so I am hopeful that she will nurse this baby (you may recall my mentioning that she turned away her last baby. It had to be bottle fed, which is what made the disillusioned breeder sell her in the end).    
     It has
been work tending to a llama each day, making my summer revolve around her pregnancy, but considering I may have to go into the stall to help the birthing process, I understand that the 6 week delay has been for the best. And I trust this will be one more unique experience to color my world, so it will be worth the trouble. Thanks to Pulani’s confinement and my determination to make her more civil, things will probably proceed with less grief for us both. We’ve developed a repore that will make it difficult for me to sell her now. I‘m not surprised. Life has a way of railroading you, dragging you by your emotions towards directions you never imagined you’d go .

    So, that is why I’ve been quiet this month. Llama responsibilities eating up my blog time. I’ve been swamped with work – writing, writing, writing…. I’ve been preparing a dossier to apply for grants and fellowships and working to develop teaching opportunities. Time to get into gear and do something to make me grow, beyond animal experiments. There is so much to share about life here – so much to reflect upon, yet so few hours in a day to put it all on paper.  

     God willing, I’ll post pictures of a healthy baby llama soon.   Perhaps that will untangle my fingers and inspire me to blog again too. I can’t imagine resisting sharing that story, and while Jill wouldn’t want anything written to make her look foolish, I clearly have no problem doing that to myself.

So, until another day . . . 


The bear came back. He had tampered with my bunny cages again. I got pissed.
So, I called the Georgia game warden and we made arrangements for him to come out to give me some advice.
Whatever is attacking my rabbits tends to defecate at the base of the cages, so this time, I saved the poop.

The warden came. His name was Joe. I said, “Joe, look at my poop. What do you think?”
Joe spit. Joe happens to spit every third sentence, which I thought was weird until I described it to Mark and he pointed out that the man probably had chew in his mouth (Ah yes. That makes sense. I’m not used to government officials with a wad of tobacco in their mouths, but then, I’m sure he’s not used to farmers calling him in who have classical music blaring on the loud speaker either.)

Joe considered all the evidence and took a look at my cage damage. He kicked my poop. Then he announced that yes, I have a bear. Nothing else could reach so high and bend the steel supports of my cages or leave me such a nice, big gift poop. I pointed out how the bear throws the heavy cage covers half way around the barnyard. He said they do that because it amuses them. He also said it was odd that a bear would be visiting my rabbits this time of year, because the forest has so much to eat now that the blackberries and such are in season. But the fact that he appears every ten days or so means he had staked out a large territory and he’s made of habit of his rounds. Joe suggested I stop leaving food in my rabbit cages, and then maybe the bear will take me off his grocery stops. This means more work for me and inconvenience for the rabbits, which seems sort of unfair. Joe did say that if I tried to discourage the bear and he continued to visit, they could come set a trap to have him removed, but they rather that be a last resort. The traps are dangerous to dogs and kids, and they’re a lot of trouble. He said that deer season will come around soon, and then we can shoot the bear if we want. Gee, thanks for nothing, Joe.

I said, “What if I start feeding the bear, just leave him a bucket of food so he won’t bother my animals.”
Joe about choked on his tobacco and said that would be a really bad idea.
I showed him my llama skull, now sitting in bleach in a bucket in my barn (which everyone in my family thinks is totally gross. Mark says, “What are you planning to do with it, Dear.” I told him I was going to use it to decorate a Christmas wreath for the barn or something.” (I was kidding) What can I say, I just felt compelled to save it. Actually, it is a fascinating thing – it looks like a dinosaur skull because the shape of the skull is so unlike a familiar cow head on the desert. The jaws are long and thin and filled with teeth like a pterodactyl. If only I still had a preschool, I’d donate it to the science collection where they had butterflies and beetles and bird nests to study. Probably scar my students for life, but still, it would definitely be something other preschools didn’t have to offer. Oops… I’m off the subject. Pardon me.)

I asked about mountain lions. Joe laughed, spit, and said that they had reports of that often, but they have yet to document a case. People call them in to see tracks, and they take a plaster, but it always ends up a big dog or something. He said we have no mountain lions – but we do have a few bobcats. They won’t eat anything bigger than a chicken. I told him the rumor down at the feed store about the person whose horse was killed and “split down the middle”. He said, “Trust me, it isn’t a mountain cat.”
Well, that is good news, I guess.
Joe said that a bear didn’t kill my llama. A bear would have buried the remains to come eat later. They won’t attack anything that big unless desperate, and with all the goodies I have around here, that just wouldn’t be the case. The fact that the skeleton was intact meant Dali was probably taken down my coyotes. They would gnaw at the flanks but leave the rest for other creatures to polish it off, just as they often do with deer. Had I discovered him sooner, I might have had evidence to support that theory. Glad I didn’t.

Joe suggested we try to shoot the coyotes, because they are not indigenous to the area and there is no law against killing these marauders. But, even if we were crack shots (and we aren’t) we won’t ever get rid of these pests, because they’ll repopulate faster than you can blink. Gee, Thanks for nothing, Joe.   

He said my dead chickens are not a result of the coyotes or the bear. That is probably a possum or dog or fox or something else or most likely a combination of the above.  So, catching the bear or shooting the coyotes still wouldn’t solve my problems. Apparently, nature is a resourceful enemy and she is going to keep coming at me over and over again, despite my best efforts to thwart her.

Joe told me to erect an electric fence around my bee hives for safety. (Then he spit) I might want to put one around my rabbit cages too. (He spit again)  I pointed out that I have no electrical in these areas, and he suggested I purchase solar units. (More spit) This is getting complicated. Thanks for nothing Joe.

I will have to think on all this. I am getting pretty aggravated and I don’t know how much more my tender heart can take.

I’m mad enough to spit – not mad enough to take up chewing tobacco, but still, mad enough to spit. I’m either going to have to buy a gun and learn to shoot it, or start raising goldfish. Neither option appeals to me. Actually, spitting doesn’t appeal to me much either. Some days I really ask myself what the heck I’m doing here.

Llama Trauma

I feel like I’ve been in a motorcycle accident. Actually, it’s just a bit of llama trauma. I’ll explain.

Summer is in full swing now so I really had to get my momma llama sheered before her baby comes (July 13). Wool is so hot that if you don’t sheer a llama before the worst of summer, they can actually expire from heat stroke. It’s only been 9 months since my animals were sheered last, because last year I couldn’t find anyone to do the job until fall. Usually, sheering is done in the spring, but this year I waited in hopes that Dali would magically show up to get this haircut too. Once I found that animal pelt in my driveway,  I decided to go ahead and call Don, the fellow who owns a llama farm in Hiawassee. I hated to ask him to drive 2 hours to sheer one llama, but he is the only person I know who has the skills to do it properly, and I knew he’d help me if I asked.  At her advanced state of pregnancy, Pulani must certainly be suffering so it was time to get her on a correct schedule. Don agreed and we scheduled an appointment. This meant I had to catch my belligerent female llama and have her secure in the barn before he arrived.

When faced with this kind of trial, I turn to my son. He is at all times, a congenial and thoughtful guy, and as I expected, he agreed to help me catch Pulani.

Now, this llama of mine is a very evasive, impersonal bitch who often strokes my ire because she’s bossy with my beloved Dali. She takes his food and spits at him, giving my dear donkey a hard time too. I’ve always had a tender fondness for Dali, but Pulani has had a bad attitude from the beginning. I only keep her as company for Dali and for bringing new llama’s into the world. In all fairness, I haven’t bothered with her for a full year, so I’m guilty of indulging her bad habits which makes her even more difficult.  I’ve talked about selling her all winter, but haven’t done so because I thought I should wait for the baby to be born first.

For an hour and a half, Kent and I chase this llama. We have a system where we both hold a long rope, stretched out between us as we approach the llama. We try to corner her so she has to run into the rope, then we quickly change sides so the rope winds around her neck, enabling us to move in and correctly loop the lead around her neck, or even better, get a halter on. We had her once, but she went wild, flinging her head in circles to unwind the rope. She is smart. Mean, but smart.

Finally, we had to admit that we couldn’t catch her alone. She is nothing like Dali, who acts a bit standoffish like most llamas, but is gentle enough to catch. Once Pulani understood our intentions to catch her, she was determined to evade us at all costs. She charged from one end of the pasture to the other, jumping the creek and hiding in the ribbon of trees along the perimeter of the pasture.  We followed her around, but it was soon obvious we needed a third party to chase her into the rope. So I called Mark and talked him into coming home from work at a reasonable hour to help. As we were leaving the pasture, Kent convinced me we should try one more time, so we wouldn’t have to  admit defeat. We sneaked into the woods after her and stood a few feet away, talking about our strategy, when all of a sudden, Kent starts screaming and flailing about like a mad man. He runs out into the open. For a moment, I thought he was kidding around, but then I saw that he was covered from head to toe with wasps.

I chase him down and brush him off, but he was still yelling in a panic and in pain. He had stepped on an underground hive and it only took a moment for the wasps to attack. I was standing only two feet next to him, but not a single insect bothered me. Weird how fickle nature can be.

Kent was stung 15 times, on the face, legs and arms. I felt horrible. Pulani watched from the woods, smug as always, probably thinking we got just what we deserved. Damn llama.

We went to the house and took care of his stings. A few hours later, Mark came home and we had to go back out to catch that llama again, and Kent, good sport that he is, was willing to give it another go. Now there were three of us (and Neva trying to help) but still, we couldn’t get close enough to Pulani to catch her. I made a pact with Kent he wouldn’t have to go into the woods, so every time the llama walked into the trees to avoid us, I had to charge in making noise to chase her back out. I figured I might run into the wasps myself, but what choice did I have? It is, after all, my llama.
Pulani would see me, run out and jump the creak to go to the opposite side of the pasture. I’d walk another five minutes, fuming, to get near her again.

As we were jumping across the creak to get to the other side of the pasture, Mark said, “What’s that horrible smell?” He looked down and jumped back. “Um. . Honey, I think I just found Dali . . . or what is left of him. Stay back, you don’t want to see this.”

Of course, I ran over. I needed to see whatever it was. Closure, don’t ya know.

There in the creek, in my very own pasture (which means Dali was killed inside by something big and mean and very near all of my beloved animals) was a llama skull, ribcage and residual fur. It was horrible.

For some reason, this made me even madder at Pulani. I was thinking  “Why couldn’t it have been you the attacker ate instead of the good, sweet llama.” Of course this wasn’t fair at all, and the fact was, Pulani’s preservation instincts and sour disposition are probably why she survived.
We chased her for another hour, my heart heavy because all I could think about was Dali’s last moments – if he was frightened or if he suffered. And my anger towards Pulani was escalating, because she really didn’t have to be so difficult. We were trying to catch her for her own good, so she wouldn’t suffer in the heat and to assure she would not be out there like bait for the llama-eater’s second course.  

A car came sputtering down our road. It was the neighbor’s kid with a friend. He was trying to learn to drive a stick shift. They stopped and apologized for driving on our land, explaining they didn’t know how to turn around yet. I said, “No problem. Hey, want to help me catch this llama?” 

Sixteen year olds just can’t say no to a question like that, so the boys joined us. Now we had 5 people after that llama. We caught her a few times, but at three hundred pounds and in a sour mood, she pulled the rope out of everyone’s hands every time. I was getting so pissed I was ready to shoot her. Really.

“Without Dali, who needs her anyway,” I grumbled. We’d been out there three hours now and were no closer to catching her than when we started. My attitude had gotten as bad as hers.

Finally, I said, “Give me that rope. I’m getting her this time, and unlike you wimps, I WON’T LET GO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!”

And we caught her, and I didn’t let go.

Unfortunately, this meant she dragged me about 15 feet over the rocks, like I was the stunt man in some kind of Western Movie. In the end, I had to let go. The skin had been scraped off of the entire right side of my body. My right breast looked like something out of a horror movie, (not that I flashed it to others, even though I wished I could for sympathy and so I’d get extra credit for sustaining injuries in the line of duty). I also had a bruise the size of an open hand on my right hip. My knuckles were bleeding and swelling and there was a scrape on my chin and under my eye. Ouch.

The boys couldn’t help but laugh nervously at this woman who cusses at llamas, is willing to get dragged in the dirt to prove she is master of the beast, and who had just gone around bragging about how she wouldn’t let go, then paid for her folly.

I rolled over and sat in the dirt, wanting to cry – not because I was hurt (though I was) but because I was so mad. I brushed myself off, dabbed at the blood and said, “Well, I didn’t let go.”
“And you expect us to admire you for that? Look at you,” Mark said. “You should have let go.”
What was he thinking? The man has been married to me long enough to know that letting go is not an option.

It’s not like sitting there feeling sorry for myself was going to get the job done, so I got up and went after her again. We kept chasing Pulani until she was got so hot and tired, a horrible gurgling came out of her throat, like a growl. I figured she might just drop down dead before us, but that was OK with me. I was ready to pull a Blazing Saddles move and walk up to her and punch her lights out anyway.

In the end, she let us catch her because she didn’t have it in her to run anymore. Neither did we, but she didn’t know that. She did reserve enough energy to fight us all the way to the barn. And don’t ya know that the moment she was inside, she behaved sweet as pie, peering over the gate to beg for food. Damn llama.

Damn me. I actually gave it to her.

The next day, Don came to sheer her. I told him what it took to catch her and showed him my bruised knuckles. She behaved like your average lovely llama, just to make me look like some kind of liar, I guess.

He said, “You have to give her a break. She is pregnant, you know.”
Of course I know. That is the only thing that kept me from shooting her or punching her in the nose.

I told him about the sad fate of Dali, and he said, “Well, you know what they say. If you’re going to raise live stock, you’re also going to be raising dead stock too.” (Grin)

Then he told me about the two llama calves they lost this year and how all twenty of his guineas had been picked off. So, it isn’t just me.

At 58, retired and now building up new business running a llama farm, he has a jovial sense of humor. I appreciate his down to earth view of life and the conversations we have as he runs the electric sheers over the llama and hands me huge hunks of wool to put in a trash bag (because I will send this to the carding mill with angora fur to turn it into magnificent roving).  We talked about the huge adjustments that come with living in a small town, raising animals, and living in a closer relationship with the land when you were formerly a city dweller. He said, “It isn’t for everyone, but it sure feeds my soul. I’ll take a day out in the sun with a llama over a day in an office any time.”

He inspected my garden, which this year is just twenty rubber storage boxes used as makeshift containers. I have zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers already making a debut.

He said, “My garden has been doing poorly because all the trees around the area have grown so big the last few years, they now block the sun. Maybe I’ll try what you’re doing so I can pick up the plants and chase the sun when I need to.” 

Considering he is always helping me with out with my questions about llamas, I liked that I had something to contribute in return.

He told me a story about how some customers of his, a gay couple, who always stand over him with scissors while he is sheering their llamas. Every time he pauses, they fuss and clip off any stray hairs to make sure their llama’s hairdo is perfect. He laughed and said, “It’s so silly. Even you don’t do that.”

Even me? What’s that supposed to mean? I had to ask, “What do you mean, even I don’t do that. I’m not fussy, am I?”

He leaned against the llama’s back and grinned and said,  “No, but are you aware that the music you always play out here isn’t your usual barn music?”
I guess he has noticed I always have classical music blasting. I laughed and said, “My daughter does kid me about that. Just the other day she said, “Only my mom would be out in a barn, shoveling horse shit to classical music.”

Don said, “Funny, but the music doesn’t seem to fit you. I’d take you as a country music type. Don’t you like country music?”

I explained that I like it fine, and listen to it plenty since Mark has it on all the time, but it isn’t my first choice. My first choice is always Jazz and blues. My second choice for a radio station is NPR because I love the interviews. Then, I’ll go for a classical station. The problem is, I don’t get many stations on my little boom box at the barn. I have a choice of country, a Christian station, and a very highbrow classical station. So, considering the options, you always hear Beethoven and Brahms at my barn. If I ever remember to bring CD’s down, I’ll be blasting jazz and vintage soulful blues.

“You’re not what you seem,” Don said, packing up his llama gear.
Up here, few people do have an inkling of who I am. But sometimes I think the people from my last life were just as clueless. I had to choke back a smile, wonderng what he would think if he ever spied on me when I was alone at the barn. Dances with Wolves has nothing on me. I have Dancing with Donkey down pat. No joke.
Anyway, now my female llama is secure in the barn, cool at last, thanks to her new hair cut. I go in the stall everyday (limping because of my bruised hip – still covered with scabs) to desensitize her with handling – partly because I know it is important I do this to teach her to behave better, but also because I know it annoys her and she doesn’t deserves too cushy a set up after yesterday.

I guess you could say we are tolerating each other, but I must admit, some good friendships begin that way. I’ll decide her fate when the baby is born. If she turns the calf away and refuses to nurse it (as she did with her last offspring), she’ll find herself on the auction block before she blinks and I’ll be left with one baby llama to bottle feed. If she is a good mother and does her job, she has six months reprieve and we’ll see how I feel about her later. But between you and me, I’m guessing my llama days are numbered.

I still have to consider the safety issue. Today, when I told the people at the feed store what happened they said, “That was your llama missing in the paper? Sorry. It might be a mountain lion. We have those around here. Just last week one of our customers lost her horse to a lion. She found it split open down the back, filleted.”

Did you have to tell me that? Eee-gad. My heart can’t take much more of this.

This may sound morbid, but I’ve decided I want Dali’s skull. I’ll bleach it and hang it in the barn – like all those cow skulls they use for western decoration. Mine will be a private shrine to a special pet. . (and it will serve as a great conversation piece). Kent thinks I’ve really lost it, but that didn’t stop him and his friends from bragging that they’d retrieve it for me. They walked out to see what was left of Dali, but they came back so grossed out they said they wouldn’t touch it for a hundred bucks. Big sissies. I figure we can wait a few days until the remains are picked clean by nature, then I’ll put on gloves, get the skull and bury what is left of my old boy in a respectful way – classical music accompanying the chore, of course.  I don’t fear dead things the way I did when I moved here (desensitized, apparently), and because it’s Dali, I want to assure he rests in peace.
You can bet the scarf I’m making out of his fur will be very, very dear to me.

Anyway, that is the story of my llama trauma.