I've been thinking a lot about life and death as I construct the new foaling stall. No great philosophical pondering gave rise to the most recent thoughts. They started simply as I stood near the top of a wobbly ladder, constructing the roof for our new foaling stall.
Mandy "supervised" me from the riding ring as she ate her hay. As I nailed one of many hurricane ties in place, two of the ladder's legs left the uneven ground and I slammed my ear into a roof rafter. The rafter barely acknowledged the impact. Well, at least I can be sure we'll have a solid roof.
Despite my mild dizziness, I righted myself and peered over the plywood wall at Mandy.
"How would you feel if I died while building your foaling stall?" I asked her, rubbing my ear.
"I suppose I would feel less certain that the stall would be finished in time," Mandy said, rooting through the pile of orchard grass with her muzzle.
"Oh," I said.
"I want this baby out," she said. "The weather is hot, I'm hot, the baby is heavy.and hot, and heavy. I won't hold it in. I'll drop it right here in this riding ring if I must. Then the foal will get bruises and scrapes and it'll be your fault. Nothing personal."
"Um.none taken. I'm just going to get back to work here, then."
Like Mandy, the entire farm is focused on the cycle of life. The farm is in the "teeming" phase of the cycle. And this time of year in eastern North Carolina, "teeming" is an understatement.
The grass is growing at a furious pace, as are the weeds, trees, shrubs, bushes, brambles and vines. We want the grass--for the lawn and the pastures. And though it seems to grow back in just a few hours, most of it, along with the weeds, can be mowed.
The trees seem grander and greener than ever. The Crepe Myrtles, apple and pear trees are happily invigorated by the last round of prunings. The Sweet Gums are growing armies of Medieval, spike-covered seed balls to drop into the riding ring and the lawn come fall. But the trees also provide our farm with acres of welcome shade, so we let them slide.
Our garden is out of control (in a good way) and relatively bug-free, thanks to my organic pest spray. Every row is nearly pristine and green, except for the beans.
That's because the Bean Leaf Beetles are out of control (in a bad way). They're skeletonizing the bean leaves and causing me great torment, loss of sleep and baldness because I'm pulling my hair out. In our second year of gardening, the score is bean beetles: two, Jeremy and Kimberly: zero.
And like the beetles, the summer has helped other "undesirables" to thrive. The afternoon rains seem to be great for everything except horse hooves. Especially the hooves on a horse that is silly enough to stand in the only muddy area in an otherwise spacious and grassy pasture: Vander.
Subsequently, Vander has thrush deep in a crevice of his front right foot. Despite aggressive treatment and constant attention, he is a little lame and unable to be ridden.
It was a shock to us because Vander rarely acknowledges his injuries. I remember him twisting his leg in a hole a few years ago. His leg swelled up like a balloon, but he didn't go lame. He didn't even seem to notice the injury. In fact, Vander seemed strangely confused and slightly irritated as Kimberly crawled around beneath him in the wash stall, cold hosing and wrapping his leg.
As with little Jack and solitude, Kimberly gets weird if she doesn't ride. She decided to saddle up Madison for some flatwork. I've ridden Madison on the trails numerous times, but we'd never tested her ability or patience with actual work.
Claudia came by to watch Kimberly ride, but ended up giving her an impromptu lesson. Claudia is a dressage trainer but also teaches basic horsemanship and riding. She had Kimberly run Madison through some exercises incorporating trot poles, square turns and spiraling. Madison listened well and executed every move like a professional. (I knew she would!)
Madison is a very different ride than Vander. Vander is mostly athletic and graceful, but tough. Madison is extremely athletic and graceful, but hyper-sensitive. This is not a horse you would ever kick unless you wanted to be thrown into a tree. Madison is like a sports car to Vander's pick-up truck. And though we're still not 100 percent certain what causes it, Madison's headshaking stopped almost entirely while she was focused on working.
Despite the distractions of our progress with the horses and the farm absolutely flourishing in the summer weather, we still think about Kit. Though, some of us don't fully grasp her departure.
"Why did Kit run away?" Jack asked while giving himself a "bath" on the couch.
"She didn't run away," I responded
"Was it because she didn't like me?"
"No," I said. "Of course not. Kit had.some other things to do. But, she adored you and wanted me to tell you 'goodbye.'"
Jack's world is much like any cat's--all about him.
"Okay," he said, thoughtfully. "You wanna pet me now?"
A couple weeks have passed since Kit died. The pain has dulled, but there's still a definite void. Kimberly and I have been talking about finding another dog. We're pretty sure Jack would benefit as much as anyone from the addition of another indoor/outdoor canine.
Jack gets plenty of quality time with us, but Kimberly and I are in the office during the week and the daytime solitude is making him weird. He's managed to keep Macy away from the house during all but the hottest days. After five minutes of being inside, she is so annoyed by Jack that she runs to the door and meows frantically to go outside again.
"I must get out!" Macy hollers as she runs from Jack, occasionally turning to swat him away. "Let me out! Let meowt! MEOWT! MEOWT! LET MEOWT RIGHT MEOW!"
"Where ya goin', Macy?" Jack innocently inquires.
"MEOWT!" Macy shrieks.
"Okay, okay," I offer, unlocking the back door. I've barely cracked the door an inch when Macy squeezes through the opening and shoots across the backyard towards the barn.
"You need a more durable friend, Jack," I say, closing the door.
"Yeah," he responds, turning his bright green eyes up to me. "You wanna pet me now?"
Kimberly and I spent a few evenings pouring over the online pictures of the hundreds of adoption-ready dogs that were available in our area. The economy has clearly been an unfortunate proliferator of unwanted animals.
Naturally, we're drawn to the Border Collie mixes, of which there were surprisingly many. We are not attempting to replace Kit--one cannot ever replace any person or animal. But we want another canine relationship, and we both like the Border Collie look and intelligence. We could never keep up with or properly "employ" a purebred Border Collie, so a mix is perfect.
I was looking out the living room window at Kit's grave in the flower bed among the hostas and lilies, when Kimberly walked up beside me.
"There's a really sweet-looking, female Border Collie mix at a shelter near Snow Hill," she said, looking down into the flower bed.
"Do you want to go meet her?"
"It's a kill shelter," Kimberly responded flatly.
"So, we should probably just go pick her up," I offered, with a slight smile.
"I can call and make an appointment," Kimberly said. "We should go soon. She's about to wean her puppies and the shelter won't keep her for long after that."
"I say call 'em."
"I have the guy's cell number," Kimberly said, walking from the room. "I'll call him now."
"Yoohoo! Down here!" said a voice at my feet. As soon as Jack caught my eye, he executed his favorite trick: flopping over on his side with an enthusiastic "ta-da!"
"Very nice!" I exclaimed. "Hey.how would you like it if we got another dog? Maybe one that's black and white, like you."
"And like Kit," Jack purred. "You wanna pet me now?"
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.