Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dolly and The Prospect of Spring

Dolly and Juliane                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012



       As you can see Dolly is now in regular training.  She loves her work--in sport horse lingo she "has a great work ethic."  No longer the semi-feral and terrified package of skin and bone when she arrived, she is full-bodied, putting on muscle, and she loves people.  A year ago all she did was try to make herself invisible.   She avoided interacting with other horses--didn't join in the herd antics--and would not assert herself in any way.  Where they were, she wasn't.  A survival mechanism, I think.  But now she thunders around the pasture running, bucking, playing--even instigating it-- expressing the sheer joy of being alive--fully alive!  And when there are treats given out she now presses forward with an attitude of "I think I should have some of that!"--a healthy entitlement great to witness. 

       It could have ended up quite badly for me, this decision to take a horse out of a slaughter pen.  I thought I was being fairly careful by choosing a one-year-old baby.  I mean, how much could go wrong in one year?  Actually, an awful lot--she could have had a club foot, kissing vertebrae, and scores of conformational issues that I couldn't see.  I looked at a lot of horses offered from "Feed Lot Ten" (translation:  to be sold to the "killers"; those who bought horses at the meat market price and trucked them to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico).  Most were full-body shots but hers only a head shot taken at some distance over the diseased back of another unfortunate one, less fortunate as it turned out.  There was something about Dolly's eye, though partially obscured by the flash of the camera, that drew me in.  I scrolled passed, went back, scrolled forward, but kept returning to her.    Okay, her!   I swept any and all concerns aside with impulsive optimism.  As those of you who have been reading this blog for over a  year know, I called and bought her over the phone with a credit card.  Sixty dollars.  For all I knew, her left eye might have been infected and shut.

       Of course, she didn't turn out to be a baby.  She only appeared as one because she was so malnourished, which stunted her growth.

       Now, here's another shot of Dolly at work with Juliane, just this past week.

   Dolly and Juliane                                                                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       And today, Sunday, is her--and all the other horses'--day of rest:

   Dolly                                                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       The weather today was perfect--fifties and too early for bugs.  There was pleasant breeze.  Dolly allows me to come as close as I like with my camera, and its weird-sounding shutter and sometimes disturbing flash.  Here she's dozing, the ground a pillow for her muzzle:

    Dolly                                                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Tomorrow at zero dark thirty--a phrase I learned in the Navy, and it means "early!"--the airport van is coming at three-thirty a.m. and since we just pushed the clock forward it's going to feel like two-thirty.  Jim and I are off to Boise, Jim to work and relax, and me just to relax.  House and horse sitters both in place.  When we return it'll be time to start gearing up for show season.  I already received e-mail notification that "Dressage at Saratoga," held Memorial Day weekend, is open for entries.  Yikes--I haven't even renewed my United States Equestrian Federation membership!  Also, the horses will all need their spring shots.  Added to which, my friend in Concord has seen and heard quite a few foxes and is pretty sure another litter of kits will appear under her barn this spring, too.   I'll be unable to resist--again--what is becoming an annual rite of spring --taking photos of these enchanting little creatures as they run and play among the buttercups!   This photo was the litter last year before they were threatened by an unfriendly coyote and their mama re-homed them to the safety of my friend's barn:

   Fox Kits                                                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011


        I will end with a photo of Dolly's eye, just over a year since the picture at the auction was taken.  If you look closely, you can see the sky, the trees, her pasture, one of the other horses, and what I think might be a reflection of me.


More news about Highway (he's doing well) and Idaho soon.  

Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly --


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March Comes in Like a Lion (Cub)!

                        Tica                                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Well, finally it is here--snow, or "white gold" as it's known to ski resorts and plow drivers.   It started three nights ago.   Boston got a slushy coating but some areas north and west got over a foot.  We in Acton fell right in the middle with five-and-a-half inches.  If it hadn't been a leap year, it would have been a record-breaking snow-free February.

      The horses thought it a great novelty and took full advantage of the large pasture to run and play their wonderful games of equine-tag.  Their leaps and arabesques are surely an expression of the great joy of being alive.  I'm constantly amazed how closely they read each others' body language.  The slightest turn of a muzzle, the flick of an ear, a snort, they all relay messages so subtly and quickly that they're are difficult to discern.  The horses seem to turn in complete synchronicity, kicking up short contrails of sun-sparkled, mica-like snow dust.  

       Here's Elementa, a contrast in black and white:

    Elementa                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
        In my last blog I mentioned what tremendous fun riding in the snow is.   Rocks and ruts are covered so you can trot and canter for miles.  The only obstacles are needled pine boughs which manage to collect pounds of snow.   They bend long and low, blocking paths and trails.  I can't always duck far enough to clear them completely, so my horse and I sometime receive snow dumps.  Unless you're wearing waterproof "everything" this can be unpleasant--hands, neck, thighs and, especially, seat.  When you lean forward to duck, your seat comes out of the saddle.  The snow lands there, melting thoroughly almost as soon as you sit back down.

       Riding yesterday I was prepared--having borrowed my husband's waterproof drover's coat.  The snow simply slid off me onto the ground.  Tica wore a quarter sheet, so between that and my coat, she too, was well protected.  I ducked under a bough whose needles held frozen crystal panes and icicle points.  There was the most wondrous musical tinkling in my ear.  I'd heard this before but never in the woods.  It wasn't the sweet tinkling of those angel chimes that appear at Christmas.  You know what I'm talking about--those brass angels holding little upside-down wands that strike bells as the warmth of candles send them in a circle.  It wasn't as refined as that.  It was more blunt.

       And then I remembered--"Howell's Five and Ten" in the center of the small town of Bethpage, New York.  My family moved there from nearby Levittown when I was five.  Children then hardly did anything organized after school.  They just played together.  Most families still made due with one car.   No one I knew took gymnastics or played soccer  (most of us didn't even know what soccer was.)  Some boys played Little League and some girls took ballet.  Some had Boy or Girl Scouts, but there was a lot more free time and virtually no helicopter parents.  In the summer there were two-week sessions of "summer recreation" at the local elementary school.  I went to one of those and then refused another until my mother bribed me with five dollars.  (That bought  a beautiful double holster set of cap guns from the toy section of Pergament's department store.)   Playing "Red Light Green Light" and kickball in the hot sun for ten days was a fine trade-off.

      So when we were out of school most of the kids were around.  We played in our homes, tried to ride the two poor Guernsey cows staked out in the field at Borella's Farm, climbed trees, and explored the house frames of the developments going up on the acres and acres of pesticide-ridden former potato fields.  Parents didn't worry much about where their children were.  We'd all been told not to take candy from strangers and not to get in their cars.  That was it.  My parents didn't really care where I was when I was out of the house.  They both knew--my father, certainly, my mother subconsciously--that the primary threat to my physical and mental well-being was inside our home.   Outside our house my father projected the appearance of being a kind gentle professor, but inside--usually after dinner, but sometimes when my mother was off shopping--he was a cruel and sadistic pederast.

       Naturally, I stayed out of that house as much as possible.  I had friends but also spent a great deal of time riding my bicycle all over.  And if I had my quarter allowance or had earned a couple of dimes helping my brother deliver The Long Island Press, I'd ride the two-and-a-half miles into town to Howell's.  It was a magical place full of things children could afford:  whistles, yo-yo's, bubbles, little ceramic animals, puzzles, metal crickets, Chinese handcuffs (woven reed tubes in which you stuck your fingers, sometimes, it seemed, permanently), little American flags, and, of course, tin pails and shovels for Jones Beach and Fire Island.   

        Then there was my favorite--the chimes:  small squares of glass with little pink blossoms painted on them attached by black strings to a circle of painted bamboo.    They cost more than a quarter, so I never bought one.   But I would always go to the aisle where they were hung and I'd tap the panes.  They made a wondrous tinkling.  Over fifty years later, during a ride in the woods and a chance encounter with a pine bough, I heard it again. 

       The King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the West--Roy Rogers and Dale Evans:

       Every Saturday morning I watched the Roy Rogers Show.  It was my program and my brothers didn't object; mostly because they slept late.   How I ached to have Roy Rogers as my father.  He defended the downtrodden, brought the bad guys to justice, loved children and animals--a thoroughly decent man.  And best of all he rode like the wind on the most gorgeous horse imaginable--Trigger, his golden palomino.  Roy could always count on Trigger, whether it was to kill a rattlesnake, knock a gun out of an evil-doer's hand, or gallop off to alert the sheriff when Roy needed help.  And then there was "Bullet, the Wonder Dog."  He served a similar role as Trigger though his weapon of choice were his teeth.

       I liked Roy's good friend Dale Evans, too (in real life, his wife).  She took nonsense from no one.  She owned her own restaurant, was great with a gun (not quite as great as Roy), rode fabulously (not quite as fabulously as Roy), and didn't hesitate putting her apron around sidekick Pat Brady (Roy, of course, didn't have an apron).  Dale would then ride off to help Roy (not as often as Roy rode off to help her.)  In a number of episodes she actually saved him, and sometimes rode ahead of Roy and his following posse.  Unfortunately,  her horse was not nearly as pretty Trigger and bore the name Buttermilk.  Well, it was the 1950s, so I guess I couldn't have everything.  

       I learned a lot from these programs.  So much at my house was  confusing, but Roy made things clear.  He talked a great deal about justice and how to treat people.  He talked about the Golden Rule.  That was something I desperately tried to go by, to carry with me as my guide at all times.  And I actually found it--at Howell's Five and Ten.  At least, it was a good working copy of it:  a yellow, six-inch ruler.  I can't remember how much it cost, but you can bet it was less than a quarter.  To remind me of the Golden Rule I carried that ruler in the back pocket of my jeans wherever I went.   When I found myself nervous, scared, or angry, I held that ruler tight, pressed it into the palm of my hand and heard Roy Rogers' voice in my head, "Honey, do unto others as you would have done unto you."  But I never took that ruler out at home, even though that's where I needed it most.  I hid it under my mattress.  Things that I held dear became objects of destructive interest to my father. 

       The other thing that Roy Roger and Dale Evans did in real life was to adopt children.  They had biological children, too.  When Roy and Dale appeared on variety shows, their children often appeared as well.  I couldn't get adopted by Roy and Dale--one's parents had to be dead for that.  But I thought perhaps I could gain access to life at the Double R Bar Ranch by marriage.  I thought Roy's ten-year-old son Dusty seemed nice.  Of course, as the years passed that possibility seemed less and less likely.

        As I went from child to teen to adult, the idea of adopting still resided in the recesses of my  psyche.  When I was in the Navy in Japan, several couples I knew adopted babies from Korea.  But I wasn't married.  That, at the moment, seemed the only obstacle.  When I returned stateside--still in the Navy but now in Boston--I happened to meet a social worker representing an adoption agency.  She said that a number of countries were permitting single parents to adopt.

       Three years later I boarded an airplane for Cali, Colombia, to meet a very pretty, enchanting, black-eyed six-year-old.  Her name was Marleny, and she had been removed from her parents by the Colombian division of child welfare for neglect and abuse.  Just how extensive the abuse had been we would learn through the years.  I was naive then, and optimistically thought that all I would need to do was love her and everything would be fine.  But, like many parents of older adopted children (and even of children not adopted), I learned very quickly that I would need to "LOVE" her!  Thankfully, within a few years I married Jim.  Together with him, and the sweet arrival of newborn baby Alec, we pressed forward through some very difficult times.  And, of course, Marleny, now thirty-six, then and now, is one of the bravest women I have ever met.  Here she is, just eighteen months after her adoption, comforting a kitten someone had dumped at a nearby barn:

            Marleny and Kitty                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Colombian children, unwanted kittens, and wandering naval officers, weren't the only beneficiaries of Roy Rogers' sympathetic wisdom and support.  During these decades--realizing what a force his and Dale's example had been in my young life--I've read and listened to many tributes and expressions of gratitude from other grown-up children who needed him just as badly as I did.

       Of course, Roy Rogers wasn't my only source of support.  Westerns of all sorts, adventure stories, books about horses and dogs, and anything to do with rescues and animal care made my viewing and reading lists.  I sought out the company of those who loved animals and children, supported the hurt and the needy, and were passionate about justice.  It's common to say that movies and the media can corrupt and even promote violence and crime, but they can just as equally give life a sense of purpose and hope.  What I read and watched convinced me that there was a universal moral force out there, and I was determined to become part of it.

  "Highway" Construction Completed!

  Highway Post-Op                                                                                                              Ann Fratesi copyright 2012  

       I know that he looks horrible and in apparent pain but this is one of the few interventions by man that will have served to put things right for this poor fellow.  Those of you who've read my last two blogs already know that Highway served as a bait dog in the illegal sport of pit bull fighting.  And after his body finally gave way to the hundreds of cruel "training" bites he was discarded, left for dead on a Mississippi roadside.  But a number of Good Samaritans rushed to his aid, and Highway is now on the mend and, as soon as his health permits, will be on his way to a new home in New Jersey, with his new friend Tom.

       The stitched-shut, swollen eyes you see are the result of the operation he had to correct his entropion, a congenital deformity.  Highway's lower lids turned inward, causing his lashes to jut into his eyes, which constantly blinked and squinted in irritation.  But in a few more days the swelling will go down, the stitches will be removed, and for the first time ever Highway will have an unimpeded view of the kinder, gentler world that is to be his for the rest of his natural life.

      From:  Especially For Pets
      To:  Especially for Highway!

             I first met Amy Kinne when she was manager of "Especially For Pets," a store specializing in supplies and services for cats and dogs.  That was nearly twenty years ago.  Now there are seven stores and Amy is the Director of Business Development.  Because of our connection through my animals, Amy has kept up with my blogs and YouTubes.   When she learned about Highway she decided right then and there to send him an Especially for Pets care package.  And what a care package it was!  Here's Highway just after Pam and Dr. Bryant Anderson opened it for him:

    Care Package                                                                                                                          Ann Fratesi copyright 2012   

And you can bet he's never been had anything like this thick fleece bed!

    Highway's Bed                                                                                   Ann Fratesi copyright 2012

And it came with toys!

   First ever toy!                                                                                                                           Ann Fratesi copyright 2012

And treats!

   Treats!                                                                                                                             Ann Fratesi copyright 2012

           "Let me see, maybe there's more!"

    Highway Dives In!                                                                                 Ann Fratesi copyright 2012

       And there was more--toys and treats galore.  And this, too:

   "Easy Walk" harness                                                                                                Ann Fratesi copyright 2012

       An "Easy Walk" harness.  Pit bulls can be strong pullers.  Highway is no exception, so this will help as he matriculates into a superior and gentler school of dog training.

       Many thanks to Amy and Especially For Pets for these generous gifts.  This dog has never had a toy in his life.   Highway saw these terrific presents just before his operation.  He woke up to them as well, and is recuperating on his new luxurious white pad.  In a few days he'll be able to see clearly for the first time in his life.  His eyes will fully take in the vision of a new world, and in time he'll understand that it's here to stay.  Again, many thanks to all hearts who made this possible.

An End To The Bronze Turkey Era 

 Those of you who have been following my blog for a long time know that I purchased three little day-old bronze (as opposed to the more common white) turkey babies, the proper name for which is "poults."    Here's a picture you may have already seen when I brought them with me to a dressage show last spring in 2011:

     Turkey Poults                                                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea were charming creatures.  As they grew--and they did grow rapidly!--you might have declared them ugly:  I certainly didn't find them "pretty."  But when they "fanned"--fluffing out their tails and wing feathers--I thought them majestic and stately. 

       Unfortunately, they were mad about horse feed, and Tica (pictured in the snow shot at the beginning of this blog) became mad herself when Clark hurled his prodigious self into the breakfast feed tub Tica knew I'd just set out for her.  One strike with her front hoof and Clark was no more.  From that time on turkeys and chickens were only let out of their coop after the horses had had their morning grain.  From last summer here are survivors Lewis and Sacagawea: 

                Lewis and Sacagawea                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
       Each night the turkeys and roosters were shut in the coop.  But one mild sunny day Lewis vanished without a trace, leaving sister Sacagawea the lone survivor of what was beginning to seem a misguided purchase.  Two out of three hadn't made it past Thanksgiving--the American drop-dead date for most turkeys.  And things were not looking bonnie and bright for Sacagawea.   When she was but a couple of months old, my friend's dog got a hold of a wing rendering it broken and useless.  The wing dragged on the ground until I grabbed a scissors and shortened a number of feathers.  Still, she walked with an unbalanced gait.

      Domestic turkeys can't fly:  they're genetically bred to carry too much ballast (i.e., meat).  That didn't stop them from trying, though.   I saw many attempted lift-offs and just as many end-of-runway failures.  They might be air borne a few seconds, but they invariably crash-landed.  It was worse for Sacagawea.  Most of the time she never got off the ground.  But once our dog Clem startled her so badly that through a tremendous effort she did manage to gain altitude.  However, her bad wing soon ceded all power--and direction--to her good wing.  She cork-screwed, turned belly up, and landed on the lawn flat on her back with a heavy thud.

      The turkeys were successful in using their wings for balance--except Sacagawea.  If she lost her balance--and since she only had one operating wing--she invariably would fall over onto her back.  I'd seen Lewis and Clark occasionally do the same, but having two good wings they were immediately able to right themselves.  Sacagawea had to wait upside-down, tortoise-like, until I found her and put her to rights.   Fortunately, we lined our entire three-board backyard fence with a galvanized mesh.  The coop door led out into the backyard, which was fairly level.  Sacagawea could not get out of the yard, so her flat-on-her-back tumbles were greatly reduced.  

       That is until winter.  The outdoor coop had a door that led to an indoor coop built connecting to a mud room on the lower level of our house, which is essentially the basement.   At night the chickens would come in to roost on perches that I'd set up, and when the turkeys were little they, too, came in, though they did not perch.  But when winter arrived (such as it was this year), I had to pick up a reluctant Sacagawea and shove her through the coop door each evening after the chickens went into the interior coop.  That way she could be warm as well.  She fit, but barely.  I had to press her wings tightly against her body.   She could never do this herself.  Moreover, by February she tipped in at above forty pounds.  Mornings were usually a little easier.  The coop was small and I had only to herd her to the door then shove her out.  But I'd say that one out of three times she'd lose her balance and again fall over flat on her back.  And, once again, I'd need to go through the main coop door and put her to rights.  She was a heavy thing, and struggled against me.  I had to work hard to keep her wings closed.  One of her wings once slipped out of my grasp.  She beat it frantically, striking my face and nose, resulting in the biggest nosebleed I'd had since the second grade.

      Just a week this past Saturday morning I went out to feed  Sacagawea and the chickens.  Because it had been a warm evening I hadn't needed to put Sacagawea in, but instead left in the outdoor coop to "ground-roost" on a little pile of hay she favored.  And that's where the next morning I found her lifeless body.  She was intact except for a gaping wound at the back of her neck.  The coop is fenced in on all sides--including the top--with wire mesh, and the metal fencing itself is set in concrete to prevent anything from digging under it.  So, the majority of predators--coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, racoons, hawks and owls--couldn't get in and there was no sign any had tried.  I doubted a skunk could have squeezed through, and there were no aromatic indications one had been about.  I think it likely to have been a weasel.   In earlier years I had seen two lying dead next to the coop.  I assume my cats killed them (they certainly could), though weasels would have been a tough adversary.  

       Poor Sacagawea--with her wing, and even though I took steps to protect her--she seemed doomed from the start.  I was surprised that she outlived Lewis and Clark.  I though sooner or later a fox would jump my fence--gray foxes are particularly agile climbers--and do her in.  But I really thought she was safe in the coop.  Even if I had shoved her in that night, it was warm so I wouldn't have closed the door to the outside.  Whatever got her on her nest of hay would have gotten her in the interior coop as well.

       The only way to have protected her totally would have been to keep her completely caged.  Where's the sweetness of life in that?  She needed the sunshine, her rolls in the dirt and her bug hunts among the grass.  When it warm and I sat outside to read, she would lie down at my feet.  If a dragonfly or beetle caught her interest, she would go off for a bit but soon return.  I noticed that if she had been successful in her hunt she'd settle down and preen her lovely gold and bronze feathers with her singularly ugly beak. 

       I will not get domestic turkeys again:  they love the outdoors but they're too thoroughly altered by humans to protect themselves.  I've tried twice now, and twice I've failed.  But I did enjoy them and hope they enjoyed their lives--however brief, but in at least one case longer than a Thanksgiving specimen.  I spent considerable time with them, particularly Sacagawea, and I didn't feel it time wasted.  When an animal comes here I make a promise to look after it as best I can and see to its needs.  After all, I took them out of the artificially but temporarily safe incubated world to my predator-rich farm.  I know I will miss hearing their contented chirrings, and watching their luxuriant dust baths.  They were at once dextrous and clumsy.  They could catch a fly in mid-air with efficient grace, but their running stride seemed a cross between a Jurassic Park raptor and a Gooney bird.

       In The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the Little Prince and the Fox have a conversation:

       "It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."
       "It is the time I have wasted for my rose--" said the little prince,
so he would be sure to remember.
       "Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox.  "But you must not forget it.  You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose . . ."
       "I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

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