A muddled season…

It’s been a muddled Summer, taken up largely by Bowie’s ACL injury. First, we had to keep her to ”minimal activity” until surgery (no easy task), and then we had to restrict her even further to “only leash walks and sleeping confined to a small space” (an even more difficult endeavor). As a result, I gardened less, spent less time with my sheep, and rushed through barnyard and pasture chores. Soon (October 10th.), we will find out if the surgery was successful, and if normal routines can begin again.

I took Bowie to her Friday appointment for acupuncture and laser therapy yesterday morning, undertaken to hasten her recovery, and was reassured that her vet predicts that the surgeon will have good news for us come October 10th. Fingers crossed.

The afternoon was spent corralling Alex (pictured above, looking rather gloomy) into the sick bay so that the ovine vet could check out his lame left foreleg). Thank goodness it’s nothing more than a sprain, and needs just a few days of limited movement and pain meds for a full recovery.

It’s a crisp fall morning – blue skies and the first signs of Fall color everywhere. Bowie has had a long morning walk, and has now parked herself by a big bay window to watch the world go by for yet another boring day of only leash walks to look forward to. Alex is still in his pen, complaining loudly about being separated from his flock.

It looks to be another muddled day of tending to them while seeing to wrapping up what remains of the summer garden:the last of the tomatoes to be picked off their vines,the pots of herbs and annuals which look deader than dead after last night’s frost, the hummingbird and oriole feeders.

I can’t be certain what the Fall will bring, but I’m hoping for a fully recovered Bowie back to her best life free to race around the pastures and dig to her heart’s content, and an Alex back to his flock again.

The barnyard without Bowie…

It’s been just about a month since Bowie had her acl surgery, and we’ve got another month to go before xrays will reveal whether it’s been a success which will mean she can return to regular activity…and be back on her turf: barnside and on the pastures with her her flock of sheep.

A good part of my daily life has always centered around the big barn, it’s the center of life for the sheep, the barn cats, and Bowie. And, because of Bowie, we repurposed one of the pole barns for us, the place where we gather to eat and socialize when the weather is good (and often even when it’s not because…Bowie).

These days, however, she is in the house, and I find myself not hanging out barnside before and after chores. This morning, a truly lovely September morning, I lingered to watch the fog clear. The sunflowers, amaranth, echinacea, impatience, and zinnia that I have created planters from old aluminum tubs are in their final stages of summer glory. The picnic table still holds the promise of one more feast for family and friends, and a return to life with a healthy and fully healed Bowie, racing up and down the pastures, and allowed to chase her friend Alfie once again.

Loss…

What People Give You ~ Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Long-faced irises. Mums.
Pink roses and white roses
and giant sunflowers,
and hundreds of daisies.

Fruit baskets with muscular pears,
and water crackers and tiny jams
and the steady march of casseroles.
And money,
people give money these days.

Cards, of course:
the Madonna, wise
and sad just for you,
Chinese cherry blossoms,
sunsets and moonscapes,
and dragonflies for transcendence.

People stand by your sink
and offer up their pain:
Did you know I lost a baby once,
or My eldest son was killed,
or My mother died two months ago.

People are good.

They file into your cartoon house until it bows at the seams;
they give you every
blessed
thing,
everything,
except your daughter back.

A cool, crisp September morning, this second day of the new month. For the first time since Summer first arrived, I begin to anticipate its end: it’s getting darker earlier, evenings now call for jeans and flannel shirts, and I can see my breath as I go about morning barn chores.

This was a Summer marked by sorrow:the terrible accident which took the life of a dear friend’s son. I was thinking this morning that perhaps Fall’s arrival would bring her some solace, each cool day another step away from the memory of that blazing hot morning of unspeakable grief. But, this is the way I’ve been thinking ever since that morning: what new diversion can I offer her to take her mind off that grief? Another offer of a meal, concert tickets, a hike up the mountain, a swim in the river…anything to lift that veil of terrible sadness.

I drove by her house the other day, and saw her standing beside the old oak tree in her front yard. She did not see me, she did not appear to to be seeing anything really, so sad and oblivious to anything but her loss did she seem. I thought to swing back, leap out of my car and gather her up for a hug; and then I knew not to.

Summer sounds…

The Sound of Summer ~ David Budbill

The screened door slamming tells me it is summer.

There are other sounds only in the summer, too.
The hummingbirds moving from
feeder to feeder on the porch, chickadee’s two-note
song we hear early on summer mornings, ravens
croaking back to their aeries on the ledges
every summer evening.

There are other birds too, visitors we hear only
in the summertime, but it’s the screened door slamming
that is the definition of summer for me.

This poem reminds me how very much I love our porch, and the way it allows me to enjoy summer – the way it welcomes summer into the house as a whole.

The very first time we visited this house with our realtor in tow, even as she was carrying on with her list of all the reasons why we should not buy the farm in the first place, I had only to spend a few moments on the porch to know that this house was meant to be our home.

We have an old screen door, too, that goes with the even older door to the porch, which squeaks rather than slams. It squeaks all day long as we (and the cats and the dog) come and go about the business of summer. I never mind it. That door is the portal all all the bliss that comes with summer, especially since summer is so short lived here in the North Country, and I love it (squeaks and all).

Visiting the sheepies…

With Bowie in the house, and with strict orders from her doctor that she must be restricted to minimal movement, I haven’t had much chance to visit with my sheep, as I usually do. Yesterday, noting that Bowie had settled into a deep slumber, I crossed over the dirt road that cuts our farm in two, and did just that.

It had just rained, and we’d had a bit of rain the day before, so new grass was beginning to come up and the pasture looked to be finally recovering from the long, dry spell. The flock made its way this way and that, picking and choosing where to graze as only sheep do. Once they had made sure that my pockets were emptied of animal crackers (their favorite), they were no longer as interested in hanging about me. Every so often, one of them would bound over, just to check that I hadn’t magically made new crackers appear.

Since it’s the week of the big Washington County Fair, the entire valley was unusually quiet. I could hear the flock tearing greedily at newly discovered patches of grass, and it did my heart good. We bought the sheep to be lawnmowers of these pastures, after all. I’d become restless with day upon day of not straying too far from Bowie and therefore the house. Half an hour with my sheep, surrounded by the beauty of this valley, was just what I needed.

Bowie the reluctant patient…

A week ago today, we brought Bowie home from the orthopedic surgeon’s clinic, and settled in to wait, worry and work towards a full recovery. It’s been rough going, to be honest.

Bowie is a big, strong dog, even after having had surgery and being on strong meds for pain, infection, and swelling. Not to mention the sedative prescribed to “keep Bowie calm.” She was bred to be a livestock guardian dog, to make decisions based on her instincts, and to function independently out on the pasture day and night, in all kinds of weather. Being trapped indoors and restricted to leash walks for the sole purpose of relieving herself is driving her nuts.

Not to mention, she was supposed to wear the Elizabethan collar (the “cone of shame” all dogs dread) 24/7. The picture above, from three days ago, was the last time she wore it; notwithstanding the beatific smile she displays in the photograph, she hated the collar – it literally drove her mad, and made her dangerous to get near. So, off it came.

That meant, of course, having to stay close at hand and be vigilant in case she began interfering with her incision, in which case I’d have to present the collar. Just the sight of it was enough to get her to stop and move on to a bone or a treat for distraction – for all her innate wildness, she is also a smart dog and wants to please us.

These weeks of enforced rest and recuperation, I remind myself and Bowie, will be rewarded with a return to the life she prefers – out watching over the farm and her sheep, keeping us safe.

A cat with nine lives…

Sadie (on the left), Toby (on the right) in the hayloft.

Soon after the sheep arrived at the farm, so did the barn cats from the local shelter. Their job was to police the barn for varmints of all kinds, and keep the barn clear of them.

First came Lewis, a sweet little fellow who proved to be entirely unsuited to barn cat duties. We discovered, after adoption and during his first visit at our vet’s, that he’d probably been hit by a vehicle at some point which had damaged his rear end and rendered him both incontinent and unable to jump. Lewis’ only duty these days is to serve as a companion to Bowie in the main part of the barn.

So, I tried again, and found a bonded pair: Toby and Sadie. They settled into the upper part of the barn, the hayloft, and got to work. Being feral cats, they shied away from me for the most part, approaching only when it was feeding time. They came and went as barn cats do, and I was used to not seeing them for stretches of time.

Sometime in July, I began to notice that Toby seemed to gone walkabout for a really extended period of time, and that Sadie seemed morose and full of complaints. At this time, I also began hearing a cat meowing late at night, from what I took to be the garden bed just beneath my bedroom window. And, even though I searched diligently through the day and before turning in for the night, I couldn’t tell where this meowing cat was. By this time, I had also come to the conclusion that Toby seemed to have never come back from his travels.

And then one afternoon, while gardening, I looked up to see this:

Toby, in the crook of the old oak tree.

Although he was meowing piteously by this stage, and wanting desperately to come down, he was stuck. Not stuck as in unable to move at all, because I could see that he was moving about, but stuck as in unable to do the cat thing and climb down. And so the situation remained for more than three weeks.

A friend used a ladder to attempt a rescue, no easy feat since the tree is enormous and on a steep incline, but Toby (being his feral self) went on the attack. A friend of a friend went to extreme measures and brought along her cat loving (and somewhat crazy) nephew, who purchased an old fire truck when he left a local fire company just to rescue cats (true story, I swear). This fellow showed up one night and attempted a rescue of his own:

Toby, instead of allowing himself to be rescued, climbed further up…way further up.

For the next two weeks, we resigned ourselves to Toby’s fate: he wouldn’t allow himself to be rescued, and he couldn’t rescue himself. Toby was going to die in that tree, and that was that. His meows grew faint, and then we stopped hearing anything. Every day, I waited for ravens and hawks to swoop in for a tasty meal.

And then, early one morning when I went into the hayloft to feed Sadie and clean out her litter box, who should greet me but:

By my count, he’d spent more than three weeks stuck in a tree. But, there he was, clambering over bales of hay, and not in the least bit surprised to see me.

Recovering…

We picked Bowie up from her orthopedist on Tuesday morning, along with a bag of medicines and two pages of instructions for her care. She was quiet and calm on the ride home, Elizabethan collar notwithstanding:

Getting her into the house was a challenge, even though we’d created a path for her with every carpet runner we own and several more we’d bought just for this purpose. Our wood floors have always been tricky for Bowie, but now they are dangerous as any slip can reinjure her just -operated knee.

I was worried about the kind of patient Bowie would be; she’s such a big dog that she’s impossible to pick up and carry, should the need arise. But, Bowie is dealing with post-op like the champ she is. Other than the hassle of the collar, and who can blame her really, she’s making the best of dealing with her current situation: a ton of meds, ice treatment three times a day, and very restricted movement.

We were advised to crate her during her recovery, but there isn’t a crate around big enough for Bowie. So we have her in my little office, which has a window overlooking the big barn. When she’s not asleep, she still keeps watch over barn and the barn cats as they come and go. She can hear Auggie, our big Cotswold bell wether who is her special pal, out in the pasture with the sheep. His bell reminds her of her previous life roaming around with them during the day, and guarding them through the night. A life she no doubt misses and wants to return to someday soon.

Meanwhile, she seems content to let meds soothe her into sleep…and soft serve ice cream provided on a (semi) daily basis…

A sublime Sunday…

Today is one of those sublime days in which I just want to bask in the beauty of the farm and our valley: blue skies, crisp temperatures, and that rich green that comes only at summer time.

I moved the sheep into the upper pasture yesterday; it’s been recently mowed but we have had little rain to bring back the grass in any meaningful way. I’ll have to move them across the dirt road and into the lower pasture in a few days, which has also been recently mowed and without a proper regrowth for the flock. But, that’s the best I can do this rain-less summer; and when I feel like complaining, I remind myself of last summer when it rained all the time and was muddy and buggy and yucky.

Malcolm and Auggie, happy to pose no matter what the weather.

Hanging over us is Bowie’s orthopedic surgery early tomorrow morning – that partial tear from March is now a full blown tear, and surgery is the only option. We’re told that it will take 8 to 12 weeks for a full recovery, with the first two being especially crucial. She will have to wear the dreaded “cone of shame” for those two weeks, and be completely restricted for any movement. The last month, as we waited for a slot to open up at the orthopedists’, has been especially hard – Bowie is miserable in her hobbled state. So, even though we know that the weeks ahead will be challenging, we know that we are doing what we must to get our beloved girl back to being able to run, play, and guard her sheep.

Here she is, in the room where she will recuperate, longing to be outdoors.

Moonrise over the valley…

Yesterday began as another hot and sweaty one. Farm chores always seem hardest in the height of summer, when stepping out of the air conditioned comfort of the house to accomplish anything outdoors seems like a true test of character.

I had fans blasting inside the barn for the cats, and outside for the sheep, but nothing could lift the soupiness of the air which hung heavy over everything. The flock was listless, getting up only once in a rare while to partake of the salt lick and basin of baking soda; and Bowie was more than happy to leave the barn entirely for the house, where she slept by the cool of an air vent all day.

It rained intermittently all day, which did nothing to clear the air or cool things down. I stepped out in the early evening, expecting to be enveloped once more in heat, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the temperature had dropped into the seventies…just like that, the heatwave we’ve been laboring through had passed!

By nightfall, I had to trade my summer dress for jeans and a flannel shirt, which I was more than happy to do. We sat on our front porch later than we’d intended, to watch the moon sail over the valley, and feel the cold breeze wash over the farm and into the open windows of the farmhouse.