I wake to the song of a soft rain patting against the panes of the skylight. The huge pentagonal window crowning the top of the dome is filled with dove gray light. I wonder if it is leaking again. A little orange dog sighs deeper into the covers next to me, and the Fella snores on like a man who’d worked hard until midnight, because he did.
Despite the coziness, it isn’t hard to pull myself from the bed. There is no chill in the room, as there has been every morning for many weeks. I put on the old clothes I’ve been wearing all week, a pair of once-fashionable jeans, now too big for anything but humiliation by chicken poop and horse muck. An Americorps sweatshirt (earned by my sister, inherited by me). A pair of thick socks that perfectly fill the inside of a pair of work boots, such that feet don’t dare to slip. Lola watches from the blankets.
First things first, a pot of coffee is set to motion by muscle memory while my mind wanders. I wonder if I should bring the horses in? Then a vivid image of my hand, buried in the thick, red and white fur of Jasper’s neck. But he’ll be wet, of course, having spent the night in the big outdoor arena where he can stretch his legs. I smile at the thought of his legs, tree trunks with fluffy boots. Then I think of fresh, dry hay falling down onto the inevitable mud accumulated around the manger in the arena and I frown. I’ll bring the horses in.
However, before that, there are 40 hungry chicks waiting for their next infusion of protein. With a quick sip of strong coffee to clear the mist from my eyes, I head for the mud room to pull on my muckboots. Right now the mud room is full of heavy bags of organic chicken feed. There is a better place for them to be than here, emptied into the large metal barrels outside the garden gate, they just haven’t quite made it there yet. Another important, but not quite important enough, task awaiting completion. Boots on, I head to the greenhouse.
The cheap sliding door on the cheap (actually free) little greenhouse opens with much resistance and objection. It wants me to smash it, but then what would I do? More hassle. Best not to take the defiance of inanimate objects personally, I remind myself.
The voracious chicks swarm the newly filled feeders exactly like insects. They’ve successfully cleared the cute stage and entered into the awkward, ratty, stinky stage. I’m glad. They’ve all survived babyhood, and there’s nothing about them that would make a person feel bad about tucking into a chicken dinner. Everything, therefore, is going according to plan.
Next I head around the house and up the back path to the goat barn and henhouse. I take in the new crop of buttercups cresting the hill and I happily think, Welcome. In February, the blooming flowers and the already-drying ground were just signs of a broken winter. But since then there’s been snow on the ground, ice-cold nights, and a respectable amount of rain. The world has righted itself, for the most part, and I can enjoy the proper wet of this warm spring rain in March, buttercups included.
The hens are up, but not too sure about coming outside yet. They discuss it among themselves, in their worried, judgmental voices. I move on to the goats. They’ve heard my footsteps, and I can hear Lily and Hank the wether stirring themselves from their soft bed of straw in the upper stone barn. But before I let them out, I let myself into the lower section of the paddock, where Lucy and Willow are snuggled into the small wooden barn. “Good morning girls,” I coo, as I peek at them through the window. I am pleased to see they don’t even get up, because only a few weeks ago these does acted as wild and ungentled as a couple of mustangs. I couldn’t touch them, which was not a favorable condition for a couple of hopefully-bred dairy goats. Even less favorable for does about to be sold to a new home.
But goats are wicked smart, and a few weeks of routine good mornings and tender scritches on their shoulders and these two girls now take my presence as something approaching comfort. Enough so that when I open the door, instead of bolting past me they simply look up from their piles of straw and wait for me to come in and pet them. Hallelujah!
Once Lucy and Willow are fed and watered I close the gate behind me and go back to the stone barn where Hank and Lily are now quite ready for their breakfast, thankyouverymuch. I can’t help but love these two goofy ruminants more than all the others. No problem with skittishness here, they will crawl into your lap if you let them. Which, given that Hank weighs close to 100 pounds, and Lily still smells a little like buck piss from her romantic vacation, I don’t recommend. I give them both scrubs and fill the manger and that’s good enough for now.
Time to head back to the house for another gulp of coffee before the half-mile (round trip) walk to the horses. A couple of red shouldered hawks are making a racket above me and I look up to the magical sight of the pair mating in a branch right over the top of the house! That explains all the fannying about in the treetops over the last few days.
Lola is excited now, because racing off ahead of me along the dirt road to my uncle’s house is by far her favorite part of the day. We will be having a 14th birthday party for her in just a few weeks, but she bounces like a puppy through the wet grass before skidding to a stop to investigate a pile of coyote poop or leave a message at a well established canine pee signpost along the road.
The air almost feels steamy now. The rain has stopped and the gray-blue clouds tumble through the pale-blue sky. There’s a magic moment along this road when the civilization of my house and the civilization of my uncle’s house are both entirely out of view, and it’s nothing but the road, the meadows, and the oak trees. To have a moment like that in my daily routine is such an incredible blessing, and even without deliberate mindfulness to remember to appreciate the simple things, it never ceases to take my breath away.
There are five horses to feed. My own oversized beast, who looks like a Shetland pony with a glandular disorder or a flame-eyed medieval warhorse, depending on the angle, is always at the rail with an eager look. My best friend’s gray mare, Shasta, is always close by, usually employing her refined and elegant face to scowl at me for never being fast enough with her breakfast. Then there’s the near toothless old racehorse, who is surprisingly feisty for a horse on the far side of 30, and gets a special mash to gum on. Also, my uncle’s incredibly beautiful and incredibly intimidating Andalusian stallion, with whom I have almost no connection, despite having brought him his breakfast every single day for the last two years. I am simply a serving girl to him, and he makes sure I know it. Lastly, a dainty little mare, almost kitten-like, in her curious sweetness. She’s doesn’t really have a name, so everyone just calls her ‘baby.’
After all are tended to, Lola and I head home, to finally have our own breakfasts. The sky continues to gently churn. More rain on the way. Bluebirds and towhees dive from the trees and a breeze catches the water drops from the leaves and sends them showering down to earth.