“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, November 28, 2015

November 28, 2015

Yesterday was the first I ever went black Friday shopping- Kath and I headed straight to Tractor Supply and picked up bird seed, chicken scratch, goat supplements, paint brushes, stall mats, a metal garbage can, and a bale of pine shavings.  

When we got home we walked out to the stable and began painting the new repairs that our carpenter had made to the sliding doors and stall window last week. Then Kath cleaned out the tack room while I walked back towards the house to the goat pens to rake them out.

It was mid afternoon when Kath tacked up Zip for a quick walk around, and I lazily rode the old man (Lou) around the pastures to keep his creaky bones exercised. Not to leave Pat out, I put him on a lead and took him up the drive where the grass is still green and let him feast for a bit.

Life isn’t too complicated. It might not be easy, but it sure beats the traffic of cars and money.

Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 2015

“Its not me behind the wheel this time”.

It was 6 months ago yesterday that our family was at my father’s side when he let go of his world, his life, and his pain. During the days that he laid in the ICU and later in hospice, I went off by myself to an empty stairwell and listened to the song, “O’ City Lights”, by Gregory Alan Isakov. It is a song about dying, but it is also a song about learning to let go and understanding that there is so little we can control.

Whenever I start thinking of my dad, I turn to this song and listen to it again and again. There is nothing more I could have done, and there is nothing more I can do, no matter how many times I replay the lifetime of memories and of those final days ending with the moment he found peace. Yet, the emptiness grows more empty, coming on with stronger thoughts arguing that maybe I could have done something more. But,

I had no control.

I am still hopelessly wrestling with this reality, trying to get the wheel back, even though it was never in my hands all along.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22, 2015

I recently spent a few days in Temecula California visiting my brother and his family. In the mornings, I went with my brother to walk his two dogs. He parked his car at a small playground where two dirt roads coming from different directions dead ended and were blocked off with concrete barriers to stop vehicle access. One stretched above and between two fallow farm fields, and ahead intersected with another dirt road that ran along the back fencing of several large dry lots (paddocks) which was part of a sizable horse farm.

The first day we that walked past the farm, the horses were far away, deep in the front areas of the paddocks. I stopped for awhile, taking in the paddocks- each at least two acres in size- some holding a few horses and others holding a dozen or more. In all, there were at least six or seven paddocks, and I estimated about fifty horses in all the paddocks that I could see. I could tell that this was only a small part of a huge farm, and due to its size and the amount of horses, it was most likely a breeding farm. I was just seeing the “tip of the iceberg”.

My brother said that he often sees people feeding carrots to the horses when they are near the back fence. I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to interact with any of the horses, but we still had a three mile walk ahead of us, and there would be plenty else ahead to see. In the distance ahead, colorful hot air balloons hung in the sky, populating the otherwise colorless, empty sky. We moved on.

And there was so much more to see– stucco mansions with rippling orange tiled roofs, then even greater mansions, gated homes, fields of tumbleweeds, orange groves, and hillsides rowed with grape vines, and a private landing strip where the homeowner kept his small plane in a hanger-like garage that served as the first story of his home. We passed other small farms of maybe an acre or less in size. Some held a horse or two, while others were “animal less” and the outbuildings were crumbling.

We were walking the dogs in an area where the farms were disintegrating in the advance of suburban neighborhoods. Dirt roads were changing to pavement, lots where tumble weeds once rolled were replaced with overdone landscaping, farm fields converted to neighborhoods, and hill tops bulldozed flat for new foundations. The areas we walked were the future that was both meeting and overtaking the past. This was evident all around us, except for that horse farm, that time hadn’t seemed to budge.

The next day we walked the same route, but in reverse, beginning on the other dead ended dirt road and finishing on the one that had we started on the day before. This time as we passed the paddocks, three horses that had broken off from the herd were standing close to the back fence. There was nothing particular about any of these three thoroughbreds. They were friendly and nuzzled my hand and let me rub their manes for awhile. One horse had a tangle in its mane and allowed me to make a futile attempt to undo it. Realizing that I had no treats for them, the three lost interest in me and turned away to graze. I had noticed that the horse that had let me try to work out her mane had an expensive leather halter on with a brass name plate “Impressive Attire”. The others had common strap halters, worn and torn at the edges from years of use. I was able to take a few photos of the three up close and a few shots as they wandered away back towards the main herd. I made a mental note to look up “Impressed Attire” when I got home, just out of curiosity. Having a leather halter and a brass name plate isn’t always significant – Riley, the lesson horse I usually ride at Still-a –Hill has one, and he is nothing but…a lesson horse, and my favorite!

I returned home and after looking at the photos of the three horses I had met over the fence that morning in California, I googled “Impressive Attire” and was surprised by the amount of results that loaded, and I began to research her.

Impressive Attire was foaled in 2005 from lines of many well known race horses. Her sire was Seeking the Gold, a horse that had won over $2.3 million during his career, and had raced in well known races such as the 1988 Haskell Invitational, and the 1988 Breeders Cup, finishing second to Alysheba, who had won both the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Seeking the Gold’s Sire was Mr. Prospector, who sired one winner of each of the Triple Crown races, and whose male line descendents include Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, War Emblem, Curlin, American Pharoah, and others. Impressive Attire’s sire was no slouch, nor was her grand sire!

Her dam was Sharp Cat, who won fifteen of twenty two starts, seven being Grade 1 races. Other horses in her dam side’s pedigree include Northern Dancer (winner of the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes) and Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner who broke all records, and one of the greatest race horses of all time.

In 2010, at Three Chimney’s Farm in Kentucky, Impressive Attire foaled the filly Give Me a Cocktail by Big Brown, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Haskell Invitational. It was the first foal for both horses. Give Me a Cocktail’s racing record includes five starts, one win, and career winnings of $8,650. Unfortunately, Give Me a Cocktail did not come close to having the success that her sire had had.

For a person such as me who likes horses and history, I feel that I was lucky to stumble upon a horse that carries the genes of so many legends, even if those genes never aligned to make her into one; I had not tried to untangle the mane of a famous race horse, but the mane of a horse that is a part of thoroughbred racing’s rich history. With a simple touch of her mane, I had connected with some of the greatest horses of all time. I think it’s pretty cool, out there in practically nowhere along a dirt road that by chance I ran into a horse that once was given the highest hopes and now seems just as ordinary as any other. But given her pedigree and brood mare chances, Impressive Attire will never be just an ordinary horse.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October 3, 2015

A few weeks ago I released my first book, The Sky, the Stable, and Spaces in Between. It is a collection of poetry and haiku that I had written over the years and was just collecting static on my computer, combined with samplings of my photography to provide a visual background to some of the pieces.

I had been told more than a few times that at I should put together a book – either from my blog and /or from other writings, or to put together a book of my photography. I pretty much shrugged these suggestions off. A few pieces that I had written over the years had been published, and a photo had won a contest, but I really didn’t feel that my talent was worth a book.

I was proud that my poem “No More Trenches” had been published in the Quaker monthly, “Friends Journal”, and then included in the book Answering Terror – Responses to War and Peace after 9/11/01. I can still remember where I was when the lines of that poem came to me – while passing rows of corn growing in a field outside State College, along a dirt road where I used to run, and in meeting.

I was happy that the photo of my horse Louie had won first place in the local hospital’s photo contest for the animal category and will forever be displayed there on a wall. I took that pic thinking nothing of it with my simple point and shoot. Last I knew the photo was up on the third floor along a seldom used corridor.

And my blog; well that was and still is an outlet where I can throw my thoughts out there to whomever wants to take the time to read them – with the blog I can let out whatever is scratching at my door.

But two years ago, on a cold January afternoon while I was in the stable cleaning stalls, I asked myself, “why not put together a book of things I have created?” And that’s when I began putting it together; pieces I had written and photos I had taken through the years. Sinking deeper into a creative mood, I gathered up spilled words and envisioned new scenes to join together, and created new material to include.

The book took me over one year to compile- adding and deleting, choosing and writing, and at times, setting it aside for a time and then beginning it all over again. The best part during this time was that it was never finished- it was always a blank page away from being finished- an idea that hadn’t lost its wings. The “idea” challenged whatever was inside of me to come out.  It allowed me to let go, and in some cases, let go of times that weighed on me, such as “When Elvis Died”, which is a story/poem of discrimination that was an experience that had always bothered me. Whether the poem was structurally correct really didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that it needed to exist outside of myself. And that is also the case for most of what else I wrote. Moments I needed to give up through sharing. I didn’t want to try to show off vocabulary or technique or an intimidating style – I just wanted to let go.

And that is what I did – I let go of a lot that I had been hiding, a lot that “wasn’t good enough”, a lot that was too much for me to carry, and a lot that I had hoped would stir a up a new image and/or cause an emotion in someone.

The book can be purchased either on Create Space or Amazon.com, or from me. No matter how it is purchased, one can leave a review on Amazon.

I hope you will like it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015

DSLD (degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis) is a terrible disease- genetic, still not understood, and incurable. Research is limited to a few universities, and a few dedicated veterinarians who are trying and experimenting with mostly natural methods, as the usual medications simply hide the symptoms for the short term and are of no long term help. Some researchers and veterinarians believe medications add stress to other organs as they are metabolized, and hurry the disease along.

There is not a lot that we can do but to keep trying. Pat is fed a highly nutritional, mineral and vitamin rich diet, supplemented with a natural anti inflammatory, iodized salt to support his thyroid function, and a stomach buffer to keep his gut and digestion in check. On the outside we treat his dropping fetlocks with ice packs, herbal rubs, and cold hosing. The farrier trims his hooves every three weeks in a fashion to reduce the stress on his ligaments, and the vet comes every few weeks to give him chiropractic sessions to keep his skeletal system aligned and his nervous system healthy. We cannot ride him, so he gets free turnout for exercise – the last thing we want to do is to stall him, which would put more pressure on his ligaments, let alone cause depression (yes, horses get depressed).

We could have just “put him down” and moved on, but its not who we are. We committed to battle this until Pat no longer can “be a horse”, and / or becomes too uncomfortable to be happy. So far, it’s been mostly good news, yet lately, our concerns have increased.

After the diagnosis and the experimental treatments began, Pat showed resilience and improvement – galloping and trotting and playing - although it wasn’t every day, but often enough to think he was making a comeback. But throughout the summer, that has diminished and stopped. We think that maybe the act of stomping flies, the hot weather, and less exercise due to both these conditions has aggravated the inflammation, but no one knows for sure. Although he wanders out to the pasture easily, he has stopped playing, and he seems to be giving up his authority over Zip and Lou. He no longer nips Zips in the flank to show who’s boss, or bothers much with beta Lou, whom he tormented with just a stare and taking a few steps towards him. Pat is still very much a horse, but he has definitely slowed down. We are hoping that when the milder weather returns, he will become more active. We don’t know – no one knows – that is the crux of this disease. It may not be the weather at all. He may have reached his plateau and this may be a sign that the day we never want to face is coming nearer. Time will tell. We’ll know better when the weather changes.

It is hard. Besides him being part of our family, Kath and I spent years training and de-spooking him under saddle to be a confident trail horse, and our love, bond, and mutual trust became strong and unbreakable. We continue to hope and keep trying, and so does Pat. We are all doing the best that we can.  He’s a fighter. No one is giving up.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30, 2014

I am not sure what a good memory is supposed to be.

My father passed away recently and friends have said to me that though he’s gone now, I will always have good memories.

I remember a lot of things about my dad. He wasn’t the dad like the ones I saw on tv that always had advice and nice clothes and a big car with tail fins who, in any situation, seemed to always end up on the right side of things, carrying everyone along with him. No, my dad had his faults. Sometimes those faults were the best part of him. Struggling at times just like everyone else, he was human. I think that, although maybe not a memory per se, it describes how I remember him.

He was like a cup- he never leaked, but he could be spilled…

He was human.

He did a lot of things most dads do with his kids…he went to work early and came home late from a job he sometimes didn’t like, put up a basketball hoop for us, gave us chores, yelled at us, took us to see the Pirates every summer, saved enough money to take us to Virginia Beach for a string of summers, made us mow the lawn, had us get jobs as teenagers, taught us to drive a car with a clutch, bought each of us a bicycle or two, chipped in to pay for some of our college, never told anyone of us that he wished we’d  become dentist’s or doctors or rocket scientists but let us mostly  figure out what we’d become by ourselves even if he wasn’t too sure of the path we chose, threw a baseball to us, and was strict with some things while giving in to other things. In general, he was just another dad blended in with all the other dads of the world doing the best he could with who he was and who we were.

Oh, he had a few sayings we’d always remember…”What are you, stupid?” sure we were, what kid isn’t at times. “Get your butts down here”, meaning come out of your rooms and down the stairs where he was waiting to either lecture us or give us good news – we could never tell until he began to speak. “Christ on a crutch”, whatever that meant I never quite figured out (ok, he wasn’t a church goer). And the ultimate ultimatum,” Go out side and play”, which in other words, was a way to say “get out of my hair”, I need a break.

And we always had enough freedom, but there were limits too. We could always use the car but it had better be in the driveway at 11:00 pm, filled with gas, and not smell like beer (although it sometimes did and he let it go)… "Sure, go out with your friends and have fun, as long as the lawn is mowed, front and back"…"you can play baseball in the front yard and tear it up as much as you want, but you better not hit the house with the ball or I’ll…."

My dad was a regular dad.

In three weeks I can’t think of every thing that we shared, good and/or bad, over the last 57 years. It’s going to take some time, and some things will stay forgotten I am sure. A lot happens in 57 years. And some things that I have forgotten, my mom or one of my brothers or my sister will remember, so collectively, most memories can be joined together for a more complete story. Those memories may not all be in one place, but they are all there.

Last night I was thinking about my dad…I was at a small concert featuring an oldie but goodie – Leon Russell. Not anyone I had paid attention to back in the day, nor do I now, but it was a night out and so my wife and I and two friends went to the theater and saw his show. He’s 74 now, and hobbled out with help of his cane from stage right and sat at his piano where he suddenly became a twenty-something again. Maybe it was the memories of the songs from my growing up years that he played, or maybe it was just because this was the first few hours I had to myself since that last hospice day in Dubois, and under the cover of rock and roll piano, I was able to be alone enough to wander aimlessly in my head. Through every song, I thought of my dad.

What I kept thinking about was one thing –Saturday and Sunday mornings as a young kid. Every Saturday morning he would pile us boys in the station wagon and haul us down “the pike” either to the YMCA or to Kennedy’s barbershop. One week it was the “Y”, and the next week it was Kennedy’s. Medicine ball one week and a hair cut the next – the “Princeton” style. At Kennedy’s someone would go next door to the Villa restaurant and get us Shirley Temples for a reason that I don’t know, but it was a tradition nonetheless. Then every Sunday morning, he would make us kids pancakes while mom slept in. He’d make them from scratch and if he was in the mood, he’d make animal pancakes. He’d ask what animal we wanted and he’d pour the mix here and there for a body, a leg, a tail, and a head. Between his imagination and ours, the pancake would come out to be the animal of our choice. Over time, animal pancakes became his trademark - to us, our cousins, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.

But it really isn’t the medicine ball, haircuts, or pancakes that I was focusing on last night. It was the fact that these were the times that he saved each week to spend time with us kids. He gave us time. He gave us his time. Time that he will never be able to give to us again. And time I will never be able to give back.

What is that good memory I keep asking myself…what is that defining, cover every base memory that I am supposed to have? When we talked about my dad’s passing the other day, my doctor said I don’t have to have one. I quit trying for that special one. It’s better this way, because one thing can never define my dad. There are too many things.

As time goes on, I am sure I will remember many, many more of these things.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

(Began to write this on March 8, then continued through the week, mostly unedited)

Today marks daylight savings time and it is barely two weeks until the first day of spring – the spring equinox, when the earth is basically straight towards the sun and the time of day and night are approximately the same. From then on the days will grow longer until the “first day of summer” or the summer solstice, when the earth is tilted as far forward as it will, and then the days begin to shorten as it leans back away from the sun. We are told hat daylight savings time gives us an extra hour of daylight. Daylight savings time has nothing to do with the length of the day, although it might seem that way due to the shift in hours. DST only gives us a sense of control. All for nothing.

With the coming of spring come a lot of thoughts.

This has been a tough winter season with record cold temperatures and the continuance of higher that average precipitation. The ground began to get saturated back in November and is still waterlogged. With the coming of spring and warmer temperatures, the trees and grasses and other plants will begin taking up this extra moisture, and along with evaporation, the soils will become workable again. For that we still need to endure what is historically a rainy March.

The cold wasn’t a big deal, at least for me. It does make taking care of the animals and  doing other outside responsibilities more challenging at times, but it doesn’t really change much. Banging ice out of buckets is the biggest challenge, and the animals do require more feed and hay to keep warm. Its just more trips to the pens and barns, but it’s also an excuse to spend more time with the animals!

The worst that happened this winter was Pat’s diagnosis of DSLD – degenerative suspensory ligament disease. I described it in the last post so I don’t need to go into details again, except to say that so far all the  treatments, hoof trimming, and extra care has proven successful. Pat is moving considerably well and he doesn’t seem in pain. He spends most of the day on his feet, rather than laying down. Through January, he had to lie down for an hour for each hour he was up, but now he only lies down occasionally which is more  normal. Some days are not as good as others, but these “off” days are not as often. With growing improvement and stability, our hopes are growing that he will be pasture sound and enjoy quality of life for a long time to come.

For a time, I thought my three hives would survive the winter, yet it didn’t quite work out that way. One hive died off early in January before things got harsh – I think the bees just left at the last minute. The hive was full of bees and honey stores in late December. When I took apart the dead hive, the honey was all there but there were only a few hundred dead bees. I have no clue what happened to the thousands that were there weeks before it collapsed. Something made them leave.

The other hive I lost was very recently. It was a weaker hive and I didn’t think it had a chance to get through the winter in the first place, but since it was still going in mid February, my hopes were high that it could. A week after checking on it and feeling pretty confident, I found it dead. I think when we had a warm day that week, the ball disbanded and the bees spread through the hive. We then got an arctic blast and the bees, separated, didn’t get back into a cluster in time to keep themselves warm, so froze. I think this because of the weather, and when I cleaned out the dead hive, dead bees were on every frame, scattered randomly, rather than in a cluster.

I have one hive left…and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will get through the next few weeks. I checked it today and it looked ok, but I have learned that appearances don’t always translate well, especially with honey bees.

Lately I have been seeing bald eagles over the farm and gliding to the north over the Tuckahoe River. They have been too far away or circling too high for my lens to get a good shot, but there is no mistaking the wing silhouette and the flash of white head and tail. Last year the state confirmed a nesting site a mile from here and maybe the two great birds that I am seeing almost daily is that breeding pair.

There has also been a Coopers Hawk hunting along the wood lines along the farm borders for the past few months. The other day I was lucky enough to see the hawk waiting on a low branch for a mouse to pass underneath, and then rocket downward, talons stretched, to take it. The hawk took a few seconds to clutch it tightly and then took off to a tall red pine further back in the wood lot to eat. There have also been red tails and sharp shinned hawks around, but as of yet I have only seen them passing over, but not stopping by to hunt here.

I think that this coming weekend I will begin planting cool weather crops in the hoop house – arugula, radishes, lettuces, and maybe some early kale. For me, putting my hands in the soil for the first time in the new year is the first sign of the coming spring and the solstice...dst really means nothing to me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 27, 2015

Prayers for Patrick…

It’s been a solemn here at the farm, and to say we that are heart broken doesn’t even begin to describe our emotions. Recently, Pat went lame, and since has been diagnosed with DSLD - an incurable, inherited, disease of certain horse breeds that causes the breakdown of tendons and ligaments throughout the entire body, showing first as hind or front leg lameness. Unfortunately, it is not a survivable disease, but in some cases, it can be managed for a long time. Each horse is different, and some live on for days or months, while others can hold on comfortably for years.

In Pat’s case, our veterinarian decided to forgo western medicine and began treating his whole body rather than the just the pain– she feels that managing the pain with drugs does not help the body fight the disease, but if she treats the body so that it fights the disease, that in itself will relieve the pain and allow him a longer, comfortable life. With this in mind, she immediately put him on gut buffers, nutrients, etc, and a rice bran/ linseed meal feed mix (she plans to add canola to it soon) - no grain, no sugar, no meds. She also started chiropractic sessions and is working with our farrier on his hooves to move his toes back. She also recommended giving him as much turnout as possible, saying that “movement is life”.

Because there is no cure, what we are working for is to keep him moving and out of pain for as long as possible. Our hopes for him are optimistic but guarded…he has been doing well since the treatment plan started (with the understanding that the damage already done can’t be repaired), yet there is no way of knowing if, or how long, this might continue. We have made the decision that we won’t let him suffer, live without dignity, or without quality of life. Sadly, we know that we will have to act on this decision some time in the future. With DSLD, all time is borrowed. All time is a gift.

Many of you may know Pat from visits to the farm, through the blog, or from posts I’ve made on face book. Pat has always been the horse our friends are drawn to first when they come to see the farm. He has always been the most outgoing, laid back, and friendliest. Some of you may have had the chance to ride him. Some of you may have even gotten ‘lipped” by Pat, as he has always greeted people by working his lips across their hand to say “hello”…and if you were brave enough to lean in with your lips, you most likely got kissed. Even now, I can lean in and get a kiss anytime, every time.

It doesn’t seem possible that this horse, who is the leader of our small herd, the youngest, and the gentlest, could be struck so hard and so fast. It doesn’t seem fair at all. It is said that everything happens for a reason…and I have to believe that it is true, even if I don’t see it or understand it now.