Kimberly was hooking up the horse trailer when I entered the barn. Vander, Pepper and she were headed to the last hunter/jumper show of the season. Kimberly was spending the next couple of nights at the show in the trailer. I had to work a short dinner service at the restaurant, take care of our and Jack and Claudia's animals and finish some more work around the farm.
Besides, after our most recent horse show experience, Kimberly didn't pressure me to go.
I arrived at Jack and Claudia's just after sunset still wearing my chef's coat, kitchen pants and clogs. I entered the house and was immediately "attacked" by their five dogs who likely smelled all the steaks, salmon and pork chops I'd cooked that night. They sniffed and licked and wagged and barked. Needless to say, I felt loved.
The six of us went outside to check on the horses. The dogs took turns chasing each other around the yard as I entered the giant pasture, which ran the several-hundred yards from the back of Jack and Claudia's property and wrapped around the front of the house.
It was the first chilly night of the season. Through the crisp, dry air, many stars, a couple of planets and the band of the Milky Way were clearly visible. I turned on the outside spotlights, but most of the pasture remained in pitch blackness.
I walked further into the darkness, but neither saw the horses nor heard a sound. The horses had plenty of grass and didn't need grain, but they all needed to be accounted for.
"Ponies!" I shouted into the darkness.
At first I heard nothing, then a thunder of hooves with the ground shaking beneath me. A modest "stampede" broke free of the darkness with horses galloping past me just inches to my left and right.
All eight horses ran a few circles each before gathering around me. Raben and Corey top the pecking order and inspected me first. My chef's coat must have smelled somewhat of the seasonal fruits and root vegetables the restaurant cooks with. Raben tried her best to chew on and bite off my coat's knotted, cotton buttons.
One after the other, the horses checked me out and let me scratch and pet them. The herd's social butterfly, Vicki, waited patiently until everybody had been through once before she came back for seconds. I think she'd let me pet her until both my arms fell off.
Raben's colt, Stellan, also returned for seconds. When I think back to his birth earlier this year, I'm amazed by how much he's grown. There's no way I could pick him up now. Stellan is a smart horse, and I wonder sometimes if he remembers that I helped him stand up and get his first drink of milk.
The dogs and I returned to the house where we all sat on the couch together so they could lick the spots of food from my clothes. Perhaps this was a new, environmentally friendly method of laundering my kitchen uniform.
I bid farewell to the dog and pony show and drove straight to our barn. I mixed the horses' beet pulp and grain and dropped all the buckets. I hung out in the barn with Hazel, Macy and Sascha while I waited for Justin to finish eating in the small pasture so I could turn him back out with the others.
I mucked the stalls, swept the tack room and organized the bottles on the wash stall shelves, but Justin still had half his bucket left. It wasn't hard to figure out why.
The other horses had long since finished their dinners and returned to grazing.
"Hey guys!" Justin nickered though the fence. "Whatcha doin'? Hey! Come over here guys!"
"Hey, slowpoke!" I shouted at him. "What are you doin'? Why aren't you eating? Do you want to go back out with the girls? You need to eat!"
"Aw geez," Justin said to himself as he returned to his bucket. A few seconds later he was back at the fence, talking to the others. They didn't seem to notice him at all.
The night was getting cold as was I. I knew if I went inside I would not want to come back out to take care of Justin. I climbed the stairs to the hay loft, pulled out a couple of heavy-weight horse blankets and bedded down in a small pile of loose hay.
The last thing I remember is Macy and Sascha burrowing in between the blankets with me.
When I awoke I looked at my watch. It was 3:15 a.m. I was warm and sleepy enough that I considered just going back to sleep. The cats gave me dirty looks as I peeled back the top blanket and let in the cold night air.
I covered Macy and Sascha back up, nearly stumbled down the stairs, and went out to Justin. There was still a bite or two of food left, but I turned him out anyway. As I latched the pasture gate behind Justin, I evaluated the distance to the house and compared it with the distance back to the barn.
Up in the hay loft, Macy and Sascha watched with some confusion as I used orchard grass bales and a few 2-by-4 pieces to make a hay igloo. When I was a kid I loved making forts with chairs, pillows and sheets; until now I'd forgotten how much fun it was.
The "hay-gloo" warmed up quickly. I detached the neck cover from one of the blankets, stuffed it with some orchard grass to make it a pillow, and crawled back between the blankets.
"Nice place," Macy commented.
"Yeah, you guys like it?" I asked. Neither Macy nor Sascha answered. They were both already under the blanket and fast asleep.
"You got room for me?" Hazel asked, peeking in through the hay-gloo's narrow doorway.
"Always," I said.
She curled up beside me on the blanket without noticing the cat-sized lumps beneath her. There ensued a brief protest and commotion before I assigned each camper her own sleeping spot. We were warm, with just enough cool night air to sleep soundly.
I awoke rested well after sunrise and sneezed a few times as I crawled from the little fort. When my phone rang in my pants pocket, I realized I was still wearing my kitchen clothes.
"I didn't think you'd be up," said Kimberly, "I was prepared to leave you a message."
"I went to bed early last night," I responded, pulling a few pieces of hay from my breast pocket.
"How is everybody?" she asked.
"Great, actually," I said.
"And how are you?" Kimberly asked.
"Also, great--hey, what do you think about going camping when you get back?"
"We don't have a tent or sleeping bags, but OK, I guess," she said, sounding slightly confused. "I gotta go--I love you."
"I love you, too. Ride safely and have fun."
I looked back at the hay-gloo. I was pretty sure I could build it out to get more leg room, hang a battery-powered camp light and put a box in the wall to hold snacks, a thermos and a book or two.
Maybe hay-gloos could be at the front of the next wave of environmentally focused homes. When you're done living in it, you--or somepony else--can eat it. It's a house; it's food; it's fertilizer! What's greener than that?
I'm sure Kimberly will want to redecorate our hay-gloo when she gets back--to give it more of a woman's touch--but I'm OK with that. Sharing your hay-gloo is just part of being married with horses.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina. Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.