Ok, so you know how my last column was about how much I love being out at the farm, despite the many aspects that would be considered negative, and all the obvious disadvantages? Well, I still feel that way. Honest. But this weekend it was proven to me, clearly, why not everybody would feel the way I do. This time of year is nasty no matter where you live, but I think it's worse in a place with less pavement and more manure!
The kids and I arrived on a cloudy mild Friday afternoon. No rain, no snow, just typical late winter yuckiness. The snowbanks have melted down into hard little dirty lumps and everything looks brown. The corral, which I have to slog throught to get to the barn door, is a very disgusting mixture of horse manure and wet sticky clay. It could suck your boots off if you're not paying attention. I was prepared mentally and physically for this: it's always been this way, every thaw, and I have good rubber boots. So far so good.
Saturday arrives with more of the same. I sent the horses out to a slightly less soggy part of the corral, where I threw some hay into the feeder, then cleaned out the stalls. Later I sent the kids out with the dog to play in the junkyard.
Yeah that's right. I said go play in the junkyard. I told you I was a hick. Don't let the place's proximity to a town with a newspaper office and a cop shop fool you. And I feel sorry for anybody whose childhood missed out on the fun of playing in a junked car. You wouldn't believe the neat stuff you can find in it!
So my kids and puppy were out in the back, building a fort out of a brick pile and a sheet of plywood they pulled out of the long grass. It was SO MUCH FUN that they stayed out there after the rain started. I had to call them in for lunch. But a strange thing happened over lunch time. The rain turned very quickly into snow as the temperature suddenly plummeted. I put the horses in, since they have no shelter from cold and wet. By bedtime, about two inches of wet heavy snow clung to everything. It was breathtaking to look at, with the moon casting blue shadows. I took a flashlight out to the barn because the power was fading in and out.
As a side note, times like this really illustrate how completely useless I am without electricity. When I was a kid, the wiring was down in one part of the barn, which of course, was the switch near the door. I had to stumble through the dark until I found the switch by the steps. I was much braver and tougher when I was 13.
When I woke up this morning, I could hear the wind howling around the old house. No help with chores from my old man; he had to spend the morning shovelling snow at the church, before all the punctual Mennonites showed up. This was after he had spent an hour Saturday night flinging snow at church. I sent my kids downstairs for breakfast, and my mom and I headed out the door, each layered up for the nasty weather, me to the barn, she to knock the snow off her car. It was that bad.
I had to chip icy snow off of the gate latch, only to discover that the latch was frozen shut. I hit it with my fist until it gave. For a second I had visions of spending an hour just trying to get into the corral, while my horses grew more and more agitated! You do not want an agitated horse!
The King and the Lady wanted out. If you don't get King out of the barn on time he has to wiz in his stall which makes him very, very surly. I let them out into the snow laden wind, where they did their usual run-run, buck-snort-squeal, oh-look-at-me-I'm-half-Arabian-and-very-magnificent routine. I wanted them to get it over with since I'd be shutting them up in the barn again. Lady, being Appaloosa, a true North American breed, could deal with a whole winter outdoors. King will never have a winter coat. He will never toughen up. I got to work, loading up the wheelbarrow, trying to conserve any dry shavings. I pushed it down the aisle to the open doorway. The snow hit me full in the face, making my eyes squeeze shut. I blinked and kept going.
Here's where my sad-o-meter hits the red zone. If you haven't already been turned off of country life, this will do it.
A wooden plank provides us with a bridge over the winter muck. Yesterday's watery muck, which had been very difficult to push the wheelbarrow through, had been covered with over twelve hour's worth of wet, heavy, sticky snow. The wheelbarrow sank instantly at the end of the plank. I heaved it through with all my meagre strength. The horses trotted up to investigate, snorting curiously but not offering any help. With another grunt I defied gravity and pushed it up the shitpile while bracing myself against the furious snow laden wind. Behind me, I heard hoofbeats on a concrete floor.
As I turned to see, the wheelbarrow tipped over, spilling its load of shit. At least the wind was blowing away from me! I stumbled through the snow, which was by now churned into a muddy, shitty mess, and found both horses crammed into the King's stall. They're not big stalls. They were side by side, with Lady craning her head over his neck to see if they were in trouble. Well, they were. I went in and smacked their butts. I don't advise you try this. They've never kicked me and I know them well enough to believe they won't, but with horses, you get hurt when you assume you're safe. So I yelled before I smacked. Safety first, kids. Then I got the heck out of the way as they jostled their way out of the stall.
And into the aisle, and straight into Lady's stall. Groan. This time they did their Two Stooges routine before I got there. I stood out of the way and sent them back outside.
Of course I'm berating myself, because I've been doing this job for many years, and I know that they'll run back in if they can, because they know there's hay in the barn. I should have known that I had to close the barn door. But I didn't.
So there I was, chasing Lady away from the overturned wheelbarrow, struggling against the arctic blast and the sucking mud, and dragging the wheelbarrow back into the barn. They followed dutifully, marching straight into their own stalls this time. All the doors got shut, hay in each manger, water buckets checked, and faces petted. I shovelled the snowbanks away from the doorsills before shuffling back into the house. On my way back through the corral, I noticed two horse-sized spots where the snow had been packed down and dirt streaked. They'd found time to roll in the snow. That must have felt so incredibly good.
I didn't roll in the snow though. I'd only been out in this nasty weather for twenty minutes. Only a miserable twenty minutes, and it was enough, because at this time of year, on a day like this, I could think of only one thing I wanted to do next. I went in, left my wet dirty coveralls in the cellar, and went up into the house for a nice clean hot bath.