“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 5, 2014

Before vegetables and horses and goats, but not before chickens, I grew daylillies and a few other types of perennial flowers here. I  put them on a stand out on the highway to sell them based upon the honor system - take a plant, leave the payment in the "bird house" payment box. It only half worked - people did take the plants, but...

Trying to be as Quakerly as I could I stayed with it for a few years believing that there were enough honest people out there in the world and I could absorb a lost plant here and there...but one day I walked out to the stand and every plant was gone and the "birdhouse" payment box was empty.

To this day I will never forgot the empty feeling that was left inside of me.

I kept a few of the daylillies, cone flowers, and black eyed susies and planted them around the house in different beds. Over the years we have added a few new perennials - mostly for the butterflies and bees. I have been walking around the house these past days and have done my best to capture them in bloom.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014

Waiting out the thunderstorm, I stayed in the stable. I finished brushing Lou and unclipped him, and while turning him into his stall, he stepped on my foot and pivoted all of his 1100 (plus or minus a few) pounds on me…it definitely wasn’t the first time this has ever happened, and it was definitely a lot less painful than the 10 stitches to my face or the broken ribs of the past, but still, the toes on my right foot will still be throbbing for days… I can never get mad at the big galoot though, never can. He stepped off my foot and bent his head back to look at me with his brown, wet eye as if to say he was sorry, gave me a nuzzle and lumbered off to his hay…I just gave him a hug and limped back to the house in the rain. Maybe not everyone understands, but I think most of you who love and live their days with animals get it. Love and forgiveness over come any pain, physical or emotional. Its another life lesson that Lou has given back to me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

May 12, 2014

I was walking out to the stable yesterday when this guy came over the trees from the direction of the Tuckahoe River and circled over the pasture, showing off his catch. I was nervous and fumbling with the camera because I never had an “eagle opportunity” like this before -I don’t even know how I got it in the viewfinder, I was shaking so much!

Eagles are getting more common in this area and they are no longer rare to see, but most times when I do see one I don’t have my camera with me, or if I do, the eagle is too high or too far away for my lens to bring it in close enough for a decent shot. Even this shot was border line for my lens, which is why I am so glad it came out as well as it did.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of eagles in Woodbine at Still-a-Hill when I am riding. The other day when I was warming up Cruiser I saw a pair, maybe a mating pair, flying low over the trees and then circling on the up drafts until they faded from view. The experience is the inspiration for the haiku that I end this post with.

There are so many turkey buzzards in the skies over there that it’s easy to assume that all the large birds overhead are all just turkey buzzards. I have learned to pick the eagles out from the turkey buzzards and am surprised that almost every week I see one or two, or even more, eagles there.

And we do see them here at our farm, like I did yesterday, but not quite so often, and rarely, if ever, so close circling overhead. I can only keep hoping for the day that this becomes common, and I don’t get so nervous with my camera because I will know that this wont be my only chance to get a decent shot.

afternoon on horseback
eagles float across the sky
 two leaves play tag on a stream

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 4, 2014

Cuban Devil, April 27, 2014, prior to the 5th race

The 5th Race

back legs chained and shackled
winched up into the trailer and
transferred to a refrigerated truck
until arrangements are decided, if they hadn’t been already. because it happens.
bones break all the time I am told.

not a hush
a line grows to place bets, the sixth race, simply delayed
without explanation.
just enough time for another beer
the party has too much momentum
to stop for such things. to care for such things. call to the post is near.
the trumpeter neatens his red velvet coat and tails

I asked an unshaped man, eyes locked to the racing form
“which one was it?”
“its just the way it goes” and he stepped aside
 disappearing sideways through a slim crease in the paddock crowd

monday I found the race results in the paper
it read
5th race
Cuban Devil, raced outside, broke down on the turn
and was humanely euthanized
it was the only epitaph there would be. 

Last Sunday was the first time I ever went to the track; it was the first time I saw a live horse race. I went to see the horses and take photos, not necessarily to see the races. 
Besides the Triple Crown, I really have no interest in horse racing. 
Prior to the race, the horses were walked in a ring so everyone could see them. Each horse was led around a mulched circle a few times with its handler, and then the horse was “saddled” and the jockey jumped on, and the horses were walked around a few more times before heading to the track, and to the starting gate.
I randomly took pictures of some of the horses as they were being walked, including one of Cuban Devil. 
We didn’t see Cuban Devil’s accident on the turn, as the inside track is walled by privet hedges that blocked most of the view from where we were standing. It was also far enough away that we couldn’t make out all that was happening, but we could catch a few glimpses.
From where we were we saw the horse limping and a horse trailer pulled by a pickup and another car driving to the scene. I watched the horse fall and then the horse trailer was backed up towards that spot. Kath and I knew what that meant.
There are injuries in every sport- athletes get concussions, torn ligaments etc. Last year a basketball player for Louisville snapped his leg in two during the NCAA tournament. Injuries are a part of sports, and horse racing is no different. The exception is that humans can heal from most injuries while horses can’t. A broken leg is fatal to a horse – even all that was done for Barbaro still could not save him.
What struck me though was by how cold the process seemed – especially that the crowd never quieted, but partied just as if nothing was happening; the dead horse didn’t matter to the crowd or the bettors, although I have to believe it did to someone. Some one had to have loved that horse. The only announcement that came was that the 6th race would be delayed a few minutes.
The entire incident still bothers me, foremost that the horse had to be euthanized, but also because I think that Cuban Devil deserved better from the crowd -a moment of silence, something said…something to show that his life mattered.

Note: Cuban Devil’s grandsire was Sunday Silence, winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 22, 2014

I took this picture last night out side of Tractor supply. 11 bags of chicken, goat, and horse feed, and on another cart not pictured were other supplies. This was a bit less feed than what we normally buy every three weeks, as we had a few bags of goat and chicken feed still left unopened at home. Not pictured is the pickup filled with 25 bales of hay that we also go through in about three weeks, but had gotten last weekend.

In the store, waiting in the aisle while Kath was looking for clippers for Zippy, I was looking down at the loaded cart and thinking that this is the result of two chickens, and I smiled a bit at how things come to be.

Back around ’99 a chef gave me two pullets from his flock for me to take home. We named the girls Bob and Homer, and set them up in the backyard with a plywood hut made of scrap and the fenced in yard to range in. Because of the fun we had with these two gals, soon came more baby chicks and then pet ducks for the kids, and the plywood box was now set in a large, netted run I had built to contain them all and keep them safe, as raccoons, possums, and hawks realized that my back yard was just as good as an Acme as far as they were concerned. Luckily, the neighbors didn’t care, and I think they had a few laughs over the farm in our back yard. The Owners Association never came by…I think they liked the novelty of it all.

As you could expect, the backyard got smaller and smaller as we dreamed bigger and bigger.

So we bought the farm where we now live, and named it Seventeen Farms. Seventeen was always a favorite number, so I used it as the name.

To make a long story short, because I think everyone knows the story from here, we added horses, goats and bees, along with a garden market with a hoop house.We haven't had one regret.

It’s interesting as how something as innocuous as a few friendly chickens evolved into what we have now. Waiting in that aisle I couldn’t help but to think back to the days when there were no trips to Tractor Supply, but to a little local feed store when once a month, or maybe it was every six weeks, I would buy one bag of chicken feed. It was all I needed back then.

I also began to think of friends who have visited the farm and have now begun to raise their own chickens, wondering if in a few more years will I see them at Tractor Supply every few weeks with a cart as loaded up as ours….

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014

January Skies

I have always had a love affair with the sky. It is forever changing and evolving; it is never still and never the same. Something is always happening. I spend a lot of time looking at the sky and everything in it – clouds, birds, stars, planes, colors, etc. Most photographs I take are of the sky. Even taken seconds apart, the pictures are always different, which fascinates me.

Last December (2013) I posted an album called November Skies that were taken looking southwest ward at the sunset from the stable, including a few from beneath the sweet gum trees growing in the yard. This series, January Skies, were taken from basically the same spot at the stable, in a span of nine minutes.

In the case of theses shots, like most, its all haphazard. When I head out to the stable (I spend a lot of time there) I take my camera with me and just lay it on a hay bale in the midway. I usually just go about cleaning stalls, sweeping, or grooming, or whatever (sometimes I just sit out there with the horses and read and listen to music - its my down time, and that's another story for sometime ahead), but every now and then I glimpse out a stall window or stable door and something gets my attention - a flock of geese, a jet trail, clouds, a hawk, or like in this case, a sunset, and I grab my camera and try to capture it. Most times I miss, but every so often, everything in the moment fits.

Friday, January 31, 2014

January 31, 2013

Lately I have been thinking  a lot about elephants.

A few months ago I read the book Topsy, written by Michael Daly, about the elephant that was wrongly put to death by electrocution at Coney Island, NY on January 4 1903, under the supervision of Thomas Edison. The event was filmed by Edison’s film crew and if you are not faint hearted, you can watch the grainy short film on YouTube or on many other internet sites. It’s not pretty. Topsy burns and smokes from the feet up, and then topples over. Dead.

The book tells the story of an innocent Topsy, who was a victim caught between two unfolding events – the competition between the two top circuses of the time, the Forepaugh Circus and P.T. Barnum shows, and the bitter and complex battle over the merits and usefulness of AC vs. DC currents waged between Edison and Westinghouse. Throughout the book, Daly describes the history of the mistreatment and cruelty that elephants were subjected to throughout the era, and which still continues today. Topsy was only one of many elephants that suffered a lifetime of abuse.  Her life as a circus attraction began after she was stolen from her mother before she was weaned, and shipped off to America where she was beaten by trainers, bull hooked, and kept in chains. She was never allowed to be the elephant that her instincts told her to be. That too, was beaten out of her. During one beating, her tail was broken, and since then, it hung crooked.

She killed her first human, a drunk who sneaked into the menagerie tent where she was chained, and continuously teased her and then burned her sensitive trunk with a cigar. Defending herself, she picked him up with her scorched trunk and threw him to the ground, breaking pretty much every bone in his body.

Later she was sold to operators of an amusement park in Coney Island and after continually being mistreated by her handler – who was arrested for his abusive actions – she acted out her built up anxieties through actions that did not hurt anyone, but caused the area’s inhabitants to fear her. It was decided that she be put down. Until the fledgling SPCA stepped in, Topsy’s owners were organizing plans to make her execution a ticket selling, money making show. Although the SPCA said no to the “show”, they did not say no to the execution. Edison decided that this was another chance to prove that DC current could be lethally dangerous and he arranged her death by electrocution to prove his point even once more. This was after he had invented the electric chair to prove his point years before, and which was developed and improved by experimenting with electrocuting dogs and horses. He filmed the Topsy event just to be sure the world would again see that Westinghouse was wrong about the safety of DC current.

Topsy, for her entire life, was a victim.

But she was not the only one. Most elephants were treated the same as Topsy, and as they grew older and anxious of the beatings and the strains of captivity, became harder to handle and tended to defend themselves by sometimes hurting or killing their abusive handlers. Many were sold off, and inevitably, put to death.

Another book I recently read, Behemoth- The History of the Elephant in America by Ronald Tobia, as its title suggests, tells the history of elephants in this country, beginning with the first known elephant which arrived in America in 1796. The second, Old Bet, came in 1804, and was killed in Maine by a man named Daniel Davis who was “morally outraged” that her owner, in showing her, “took money from those who could not afford it.” In 1822, another elephant, Little Bet, was shot and killed by six boys in Rhode Island, wanting to disprove the elephant’s owner’s claim that a bullet would not penetrate the pachyderm’s skin. One bullet found her eye socket and a straight path to her brain. I myself would have to guess that her death didn’t prove a thing, as the bullet that killed her did not go through her hide.

One story from the book bothers me the most. It is of Mary, who was hanged in 1916. She killed an inexperienced handler, who she wasn’t familiar with, and who poked her behind the ear with a bull hook during a circus parade in Kingsport, Tennessee. She turned on him, killing him. She was charged with murder and was hung by a railroad crane – twice, because the chain around her neck broke during the first attempt, sending her crashing to the ground and breaking her pelvis…so they re-chained her and were successful the second try. She had been a part of the circus for years and years without incident, but for this one moment which was simply an attempt to defend herself from harm.

The stories of mistreatment go on and on. Not too many end happily.

Normally, when we think of animal mistreatment, we conditionally think of dogs and cats. The reality is that they are far from being the only ones. We as humans do not have a history of treating animals well, or in most cases, as living beings. Besides neglect and violence, take a moment to think about the chickens jammed in battery cages, cows in feedlots, baby bulls in veal sheds, horses slaughtered, goats maimed for military medic training, rabbits blinded for product testing, whales speared for their fat…also think of the amount of habitat we have taken or altered, forcing species to extinction. That too is abuse. As humans, we show little value for the lives of the weakest and smallest animals, but as these books point out, we also have a poor record as to how we treat the biggest land mammal, as well as all of those that fit in between.

I never had given much thought to animal cruelty as I was never exposed to it. Our family always had cats and dogs that, at least I think, were treated well. Our dogs slept on the couch, our cats were free to come and go, and all were fed and loved and never missed an appointment with a vet. My first cat, Hooter, was hit by a car and by the time the surgery bills were over, Kath and I were broke and wondering how the mortgage would be paid…for a few bucks we could have just said goodbye to him then, but it turned out we had another great ten years with the guy who finally and sadly died of cancer. To me, and Kath, that’s just what you did. We never thought to think another way. I think that most everyone is the same way, or at least that is the kind of dedication I have witnessed from the people I know.

What turned the light on for me to begin to understand how bigger animals were treated began when we first got into horses. I was naive and only thought that like most dogs, a horse was purchased and cared for by its owner until death parted them …But I found that was not really the norm, as horses are bought and sold like stocks, and when they don’t perform to an owners expectations, most are sold off. Many have multiple owners who treat and train them with different methods ranging from trust to force. Some owners take better care of them than others do. When a horse can no longer be used or sold for some type of use, whether it be for riding, racing, or showing, or because it has been mistreated to the point it cannot be handled safely, the chances that it will be sold to an auction house to be bid on for slaughter is common. My horse Lou was headed down that path years ago.

Like animal shelters that are operated for the care of unwanted cats and dogs, there are horse rescues and organizations that work to care for retired horses and/or to retrain and adopt out horses for new careers or as companion animals. Many of these organizations retrain racehorses whose racing careers are over and find them new homes. Not all horses are lucky enough to be rescued by any one of these organizations, and are last seen on the auction floor. There are many race horses that have made their owners hundreds of thousands of dollars and end up on dinner plates in European countries. To some, it’s considered part of the business.

Some aspects of the horse business is not much different than the elephant business, and I think that is why it has moved me to learn more about both situations and to try to help by supporting rescues when I can. Luckily, there are two well known and very respected organizations in the United States that rescue elephants – PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary) in California,  http://www.pawsweb.org/ ,and the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald Tennessee, http://www.elephants.com/aboutSanctuary.php

On both sites, particularly on the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald Tennessee, there are the stories of each of the elephants that are there. Some of these stories are very disturbing, especially if you take the time to do a little further research on your own with an internet search of any of these neglected souls.

As for horses, there are so many rescues out there that they are easily found. One in particular that Kath and I have been supporting is the Standardbred Retirement Foundation , http://www.adoptahorse.org/  which is dedicated to retraining and finding homes for standardbred horses who no longer harness race due to age, injury, or lack of winnings. They have saved many of theses animals from slaughter. We were drawn to this organization because of Lou’s past as a harness race horse (aka Earls Lucky Buck) who didn’t fare too well on the track. We don’t even think he got there.

(Just so you know that we care about other animals as well, our three cats are rescues from the Ocean City Animal Shelter, and we have a domesticated duck that a friend of Kath’s found and brought to us. In the past, we also had a rescued chicken! Our little goat  gal Ellen was slated to be someone’s Easter Dinner last year, but we bought her a week or so before she was be sent to an auction in Lancaster.)

But the elephant thing is really something that I had never known anything about, and I ask everyone, not necessarily to be an activist, but to take a few minutes to learn about their plight. It is really sad, and because they aren’t as mainstream as dogs, cats, or horses, little attention is given to them. I think if their stories were more publicized, the ways in which they are treated could change for the better.