our early spring dragged on for months with brief intervals of winter. now it is mid-april and suddenly, real spring is upon us. the early robins, which were coming to the bird feeders and glumly eating seed from the ground (something i’ve never seen them do), have moved off to the meadows and forest to pick off some bugs and worms like robins are supposed to do. the migratory birds that came back far too soon have been joined in a glut by a rainbow of colleagues and the species that were here all winter have burgeoned in number. a handful of slate juncos has become a battalion. purple finches are trickling in and a male goldfinch stopped by today, a yellow jewel in a world that is still brown and grey. i counted seven male red-winged blackbirds and spotted my personal favorite sparrow: the white-throated, which is a grand little brown bird with tiny touches of bling around the eyes. no sign yet of my lovely rose-breasted grosbeak, but i know now that he’ll be back any minute now. i haven’t seen him, but i definitely heard the buzz of the male ruby-throated hummingbird. there is nectar cooling on the counter for him.

beyond the bird feeders are vast acres of grossness: dead grass, lumps of sod, dog bombs, rotting grey snow banks, mud, horse manure, and wind-downed branches. the crushed stone put down in the driveway last summer is splashed over lawns, stumps, and gardens, pushed inexorably by the voracious blade of the snow plow. there is so much to do and so little time to do it, things that must be tended to before the grass begins to green up and grow in earnest, burying the detritus from sight, but not from bare feet or a lawnmower blade.

the goats are shedding cashmere now. a quick snuggle leaves my pant legs with smears of gossamer goat-down. i let them out to have a good gallop while i forked and raked and shoveled their pen. they ran up the wood pile and over the picnic table, then bounced from one feed bin to the next in the shed.

there’s lots more to clean up, but some of it is still frozen down and my muscles are not used to this onslaught of work. i pick away a little at a time, knowing it will never all be done and taking no small satisfaction from that knowledge. we joke, in professional life, about tedious tasks being job security. in the garden, on the farm, there is hobby security. i’ve also learned, late in life, that i don’t have to spend a sunday cleaning the goat pen until i’m half dead, sunburned, and thoroughly tired of goats. i can clean the goats until i’m bored of it, then rake thatch until i get a blister, then spend some time washing windows, and so on. in between, i can stop for a glass of water in the shade and listen, blissfully, to the riotous quacking of wood frogs in the secret vernal pools and the sharp “check! check!” of a red-winged blackbird as he makes sure his mic is in working order.

the phoebes have been working to put last summer’s nest back in order over the light fixture in the shed. i meant to dismantle it some winter evening, but never got around to it. the phoebes are glad that there was a task that never quite got done and so am i.


winter storm stella is winding down as i write. we have about two feet of new snow: nice, light, fluffy powder, but blown into every crack and crevice it can blow into by a swirling northeast wind.

the horses look like snow monsters, like candy-colored tanks with long, jagged, ivory icicles hanging from their manes, jowls, and flanks.their blankets crackle when they move as the  ice cracks and shifts. morgan, the dunderheaded bay gelding, has snow matted into his long, wavy mane. his normally dainty neck is massive under a heavy layer of hair and snow. the two appaloosas have short, silky manes and look more normal, but they’re probably colder for it.

i clambered up over the fence panel to shovel the goats out of their hut. they don’t like wading through the deep snow, especially jenny, whose legs are shorter than the snow is deep. i made a trail from the door of their den to the water bucket and the hay net. edward “helped”, by which i mean he bit my butt, scratched his head on my elbows, and wrapped his jaws around the metal handle of the snow shovel. i was half sorry he didn’t stick, the rotten stinker. i climbed back out and threw some grain down their gullets, then bunged some grain into the horses, too. the wind was spooking them and blowing in their faces. i watched them play musical dishes while i sat shivering in the shed, the snow blowing in my face, too. the cobwebs on the ceiling were hanging low with snow and even buckets and junk at the very back of the shed, 14 feet from open air, were covered with a thin dusting of rod-shaped snowflakes.

the nags finally finished eating and i dragged their dishes into the shed so they wouldn’t get buried in snow overnight, but i had to drag myself back outside before bedtime to chuck some more hay at the horses. there was another foot of snow. the goats were tucked into their house, butts to the doorway. the ponies were even more outlandishly misshapen with their loads of snow. i fed them up, shoveled until i thought i would drop, and collapsed into the house.

i will sleep soundly tonight. i hope the weather evens out so my outdoor pals can do the same soon.

ello, haiku! and all goats go to heaven

do you know ello? unless you live under a larger rock than i do, you have probably heard about the start up of this new, simple, ad-free social media site. simple and ad-free are what i’m all about. part of my role as curmudgeon is to hate flashing, intrusive, obnoxious content that i didn’t ask for and don’t want to see. when they ship me off to hell at the end of my life, it will include auto-play videos and sponsored content. so check it out, weasel an invite, and keep ello going.

until they work out a privacy protocol, i’m using ello to post near-daily haiku. here’s an aggregate of what i’ve put there to date:

scarlet leaves like blood
of summer’s ritual death
beauty by demise

wide footprints of rain
left on asphalt like the tracks
of great sea creatures

a dark bark and howl
mother’s dogs hunting in packs
sly fierce coyotes

lion paws of mist
pouncing up from valley floors
to burn on the hills.

who weeps for old goats?
only those who have loved them.
dream deep, my old friend.

oak,  photo credit: yoannah czopnik
photo credit: yoannah czopnik

as you may surmise from the last, my elderly goat, the venerable, sweet, and handsome oak, has reached his end. i delivered him to his terminal vet appointment this morning. he would have been thirteen years old in the spring and he outlived his brother by five years. he’s had some rough patches over the last few years, but kept on ticking. his arthritis has become profound and painful and he stopped thriving about a month ago. he has lost about fifty pounds in that time while eating constantly, as goats do. it’s very, very sad to say goodbye. i’ve known him since i became his mama when he was just two days old. but there’s no doubt in my mind that he hurts and it’s time.

jenny and edward are still lurking around the old homestead, so i’m still in goats until i can find them a forever home. and then? no more goats and truly the end of an era.

pony boarding school, mark 3

in between dashing around central vermont yesterday fetching teenagers and carting them hither and yon for the purposes of my daughter’s filmmaking project, we moved soni to his new temporary home. i had best intentions to document it with pictures, but this didn’t happen. it didn’t happen because i got home late and my uncle was already loading the horse when i got there. then i had to run inside to get soni’s blankets. then on the road for the half hour drive to his new digs. then other stuff happened.

uncle loaded soni into his stock trailer (with ease: he’s such a good pony) and tied him securely in the back section. the trailer is small, two sections with the front section being about 75% as big as the back. there’s a gate between the two sections that latches securely.

the dirt roads were hellishly dusty. i had the truck and trailer following me so that i could find the destination on google maps and lead them there, grain and blankets in hand, but there were many times when i couldn’t see the trailer at all with the dust i was kicking up. about half the journey was made on dirt roads and they were all absolutely billowing.

we pulled into the driveway by J’s barn, got out of our vehicles and… soni wasn’t where we left him. he was still tied… in the front section of the trailer. with the door closed and latched betweeni mean, wut? he was also entirely uninjured. and very dusty. whatever he’d been up to back there on the ride over, he’d gotten himself a bit worked up and sweaty. i went in to check, then untie him, when the resident goat, fetched in to keep the lonely gelding company (to neither of their satisfaction), skipped right onto the trailer and underneath soni’s feet. soni, who doesn’t like goats. soni, who once picked up a goat just about the same size as this one with his teeth and tossed her several feet into the air. my heart stopped for a second, but soni decided not to kill either the goat under his feet or the human near his head.

J’s gelding was running the fenceline and screaming. with her permission, i brought soni over to say ‘hi’. they whuffled muzzles for a minute or so, then soni squealed and wandered off, uninterested in this new dude. the other gelding was completely wound up, but soni had had enough for one day and was full-on sulking. we brought him into the barn and got him settled in his stall, put a fleece blanket on him to wick off the sweat and keep him from chilling.

J and i chatted for an hour or so while soni dried off and his new companion ran around outside hollering and complaining. i finally had to leave to go ferry teenagers around some more, so i said goodbye to the boy, made myself feel better with a horse cookie provided by J, and left them to all get to know each other.

despite his initial aloofness, i feel sure that when we go back to get him in june, he’ll be leaving his best buddy. time will tell.

and fall fell

edward, the most horrible goat in the world, is an incredible escape artist. he breaks chains, plows through fences, drags concrete blocks for miles, and breaks down doors. at only about 100 pounds, he’s not a very big goat, but he’s as wide as he is long and too stubborn to let mere physics get in the way of his caprine antics. and (of course) this is the goat that oakland can’t stop chasing. late last week, edward broke a steel cable tether (the kind that says “for giant or aggressive dogs; 150 lb. strength”, har har) and was loose most of the weekend. he stayed up in the back pasture where the other two goats are tethered, so it was no big, but there’s no guarantee that he won’t just wander into the house if he’s wild and free, so i prefer to keep him tied. after a failed attempt at tying the steel cable back together, i went to the hardware store and bought fifteen feet of welded steel chain. like, you could drag trees with this chain. it’s ridiculous when jenny is fine with a flimsy dog chain and big old oak is handily tied with a 185# strength nylon rope. i chained edward to the calf hutch sunday night and went merrily on my way. when i got home on monday after work, he was dragging the hutch all over the place, spooking the horses and sending soni under the hot gate. it takes two humans to carry this hutch and would probably take three to beat the friction from the ground to drag or push it. ridiculous!

so, tuesday evening i set about moving some of dana’s pasture fence so that i could tie edward to a tree next to the composter, where the weeds and grass have rather buried the composting operation this summer. the weather was pleasantly jacket-y and cool, but not chilly, and the sun was shining. i was pottering around in the sort of aimless way that i do when i haven’t sat down and made a fencing plan before i start fencing when i realized that those red things on the ground that kept catching my eye were leaves. then i heard the honk of geese. and i realized that there was no escape, the downhill slope was sloping gleefully downhill: autumn.

i looked around me, seeing all of the things that still need to be done before winter and couldn’t believe how quickly the summer flew, how little i accomplished, how panicked the idea of snow on the wind made me feel. at least this summer’s failed garden means that i don’t have the garden to put to bed before winter, but the chicken coop needs repairs, the shed needs cleaning and the floor replaced (and the roof, too, but that might have to wait for next spring), the flower beds need attention, and the whole place needs to be tidied and battened down. and it’s only september, but there’s so much to do and so few (so short, so usually-rainy) days left.