Fortunately, I was the only person in the barn yesterday afternoon when the overall-clad, shotgun-wielding man came running out of the woods that bordered our property. No, I did not wet my pants, but, yes, I felt a strong urge to hide. It's been a while since I watched "Deliverance," and rural North Carolina has only been good to us--I really couldn't find any logical reason for concern.
Nonetheless, there's something unsettling about a shirtless man running toward you while waving a gun. Granted, this time of year one can legally hunt groundhog, nutria, coyote and skunk. (Yes, skunk.) Still, I couldn't be sure he wasn't out hunting horses, so I had to catch him as he approached the barn.
"Whoa!" I shouted, waving my arms. "Whoa! Hold on a minute!"
The man slowed down to a fast walk. He was coughing and out of breath when stopped in front of me at the end of the barn aisle.
"Neighbor man, (cough, hack, wheeze) I'm Isaac. (hack) One o' my dawgs come loose (cough) and run this way (wheeze)."
"I've only seen our dogs around here," I responded
Isaac wasn't listening. He peered suspiciously into the shadows in the barn aisle and stalls. His shotgun was leveled and followed his gaze.
"Hey," I said, pointing at the gun barrel as it panned the stalls. "You need to watch where you point that--"
"Where you hidin' that dawg?" Isaac said accusingly, poking me in the chest with the gun.
Jeremy, I thought, "Are you a man or a mouse?" I wasn't sure, but I felt like squeaking. Isaac's stinky, scruffy, scowling face was in mine, our noses nearly touching. Behind him I could hear the distinct, metallic sound of another shotgun being cocked. Great! Another armed and rabid yokel. This was not how I wanted to go.
"Don't even think of moving!" hollered the second yokel.
"I'm not moving!" I shouted.
"Not you! I'm talking to your friend!" hollered the second yokel, whose voice sounded very familiar. I leaned to one side just enough to see behind Isaac. Kimberly stood about five feet away, aiming a shotgun in our direction.
"Honey, you're home early!" I exclaimed, smiling at my stinky friend as I took his shotgun. "You're lucky my wife showed up." I whispered to Isaac, trying to look mean. "Honey, this is our neighbor, Isaac."
"I'm in the blue house with the busted R-V and the trampoline," Isaac offered sheepishly.
Kimberly lowered her gun. I opened Isaac's double-barreled, break action shotgun to remove the shells.
"It wasn't even loaded!" I exclaimed.
"Naw," Isaac responded, "bullets is dangerous."
"Is this how you greet all your neighbors?" Kimberly asked as I returned Isaac's shotgun.
"Sorry," Isaac responded. "I'm liable to act up a bit when I git riled. But now if you see Buster, my loose Shepherd pup, jus' go on and give 'em a beatin. He's got it comin'! Nice to meetcha." Isaac gave Kimberly a wide grin and tugged on the brim of his soiled baseball cap before turning and walking back to the woods.
"Where did you get that gun?" I asked Kimberly. "Not that I needed the help, really, though."
"The hall closet," she said, smirking. "And yes, you did. You're welcome very much. Don't worry, this wasn't loaded either."
"What are you doing now?" I asked. "How about a relaxing trail ride?"
"Sure," Kimberly said, pausing. "Was it sexy?"
"What? A beautiful cowgirl with a shotgun?"
"Very," I responded, putting my arms around Kimberly and kissing her. The shotgun was mashed in between us. This was probably not something they taught you to do in hunter safety training.
"Is that a shotgun or are you just happy to see me?" Kimberly asked, laughing.
"Both," I smiled. "Now, put that away and meet me in the barn. I need a head start to get Ellie tacked up."
Kimberly started back to the house. "Have you seen Macy today?" she inquired.
"No," I sighed. Kimberly continued to the house, looking as disappointed as I felt.
We hadn't seen our shorthair barn cat in two days. Her sister, Sascha, regularly went on three-day-long "walkabouts," but always returned home. It wasn't like Macy to wander off for more than a few hours. She would come in the house almost every day to nap on our bed before returning to the barn in the evening. Earlier in the day, I made the morbid walk along our section of road to check for any small, four-legged, Macy-colored hit-and-run victims. I saw the requisite flattened opossum, but no cats. We were genuinely worried about her. Maybe we'd find her safe and sound during our trail ride around the property.
I retrieved Ellie from the pasture and tacked her up. Kimberly got Vander ready and double checked my bridle and cinch job. We made a couple of trips around the riding ring to check our (my) steering and brakes and headed out for the trails. Ellie and I had made some progress since that first ride. Though it had been years since her last ride, she remembered all the basic moves and instructions. As a Hanoverian, Ellie is a dependable worker and initially had a little trouble relaxing on the trail. She wanted to trot rather than walk, but we quickly found our groove. Ellie turned out to be a smart, sweet horse and a great, safe ride. We get along well these days. I bring her carrots and brush her frequently--for no good reason other than to be around her.
The horse farm we rent sits in the middle of about 300 acres of privately owned, undeveloped land replete with wide trails, gently rolling hills and tall pine groves. There's little that's more relaxing than an evening ride here. The spring sunsets are cool and the long shadows are conducive to an introspective review of the day. Even if your day included a shotgun surprise, the warm light and the landscape seem to say "Everything will be just peachy."
It's also amazing what you see from atop a horse. That extra five-or-so feet puts everything in quiet perspective. Some of our neighbors seem to prefer four-wheelers. On horseback, however, there's no chugging, smoking or sputtering engine frightening the deer or drowning out the local birdsong. It's time to ride in contemplative silence, or enjoy discussing important life issues with a loved one.
"I think we need to put diapers on the dog," Kimberly said, dryly. A flock of birds, likely offended by the imagery, shot into the air and disappeared over the trees. I wanted to go with them.
"Diapers...for Poo?" I asked. (I know. The answer seems an obvious "yes," though I should clarify. "Poo" is actually our 14-year-old dog, Kit. She went from being called "Kit" to "Kitty-Poo" to simply "Poo" or "Poo-Poo." I assure you, it's a term of endearment.)
"Yes," Kimberly responded. "She's wet her bed three times in the past two weeks. We can try a regular diaper and just cut a hole for her tail." Kimberly knew just what to say to render me speechless. Ellie snorted.
I agree with Ellie," I said. "Though I guess Poo couldn't chew off the diapers."
Kit had surgery a year ago to remove a tumor on her lower jaw, which was now about three inches shorter. She can't chew anything, but successfully laps up soft food with her tongue. The surgery also worked well for our kitten, Jack. Kit often gets tired of his taunting and tries to bite him. Despite Kit's best efforts, Jack remains uninjured and undeterred, and he doesn't seem to mind being soaked in a gallon of dog slobber. He probably thinks it's just Kit's way of kissing her favorite kitten.
"I'll add diapers to the grocery list," I said. Ellie and Vander plodded on past some freshly tilled fields and the fish pond before turning back toward the barn. I thought I saw a tiny German Shepherd near the pond, but I couldn't be sure. Despite calling Macy's name from the trail, we didn't see her anywhere. Kimberly and I didn't discuss it, but I think we were still feeling mostly optimistic about her returning.
Without a gun-toting neighbor in sight, we brought the horses in for feeding. Back in the house, the sleepy romance of the trail ride was still with us. We baked some bread, and I used our well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet to cook up some eggs, bacon and home fries for dinner. We turned on some music and snuggled on the couch with the animals. It was a perfect night, and we didn't want to spoil it. So, we decided we'd wait to talk to Kit about the diapers.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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