Saturday, June 27, 2009


This cropduster has been working in our area for ... maybe twenty-five years, maybe more.

We've watched him make his graceful turns right over our house, the roar of the engine bringing the whole family running out of the house to watch. I saw the plane in the air as I drove out to the ranch for this morning's ride, and considered calling Cathy the Mad Horsewoman and saying, "Look, there's a cropduster working, let's ride another day," but I didn't do it; as it turned out, Cathy the Mad was already at the ranch.

I noted with relief that the sound of the plane had disappeared, assuming the fields were done. Cathy and I saddled our horses and rode out.

We headed towards the orchards past a cornfield when we heard the drone of the plane in the distance, coming right for us. I shifted my weight in my saddle, preparing for Dink to bolt, and moved my feet to make sure I had only the tips of my toes in the stirrups. (If you're unseated in a horse wreck, you DON'T want to risk getting a foot caught in the stirrup and get dragged!)

The plane approached, getting louder and louder until the sound was deafening, and the plane swooped over the field, releasing its chemical load -- only about fifty yards away!

I was prepared for a bolt, for a buck, for a darting escape into the trees of the orchard to our left ... but it was unnecessary. Neither Dink nor Peanut, Cathy's horse, so much as flicked an ear. They couldn't have cared less.

Now those are two amazing horses.

There are many reasons I like boarding Dink at Happy Talk Ranch, and this is a prime example of one of them: the horses are used to all kinds of heavy equipment being used around them -- backhoes, bulldozers, front-loaders, tractors, hay equipment, orchard machines ... and the sound and sight of cropdusting airplanes.

Then again, Dink and Peanut are exceptional mounts, so incredibly trustworthy. Cathy and I agreed today that we're unlikely to see such two great horses again in our lives.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Long in the Tooth

Horse's teeth don't get cavities ... unless, I guess, their owners feed them candy bars all their lives ... but they do get oddly-shaped as the horse ages.

Horse teeth never really stop growing but their constant grazing wears their teeth down unevenly. In the wild, an older horse's teeth become uneven, it begins to have trouble chewing and digesting its food, and subsequently weakens, feeding the carnivore next up the food chain.

In captivity, we have our horses' teeth "floated."

See Diagram One. When one side of the teeth/tooth doesn't grind down on its own, we have the vet come in and reduce the long side so that Horse's teeth meet efficiently again.

The picture is a rendition of not MY horse's tooth, but of a tooth I saw extracted from a mare whose teeth were "floated" the same day the vet came out to do Dink's teeth. The mare had a loose tooth, which the vet pulled out almost with his bare hands. It looked very much like my image -- a low inner side, and a high outer side.

Floating reduces the high side to match the other, as per the red line.

Interesting process: the vet injects the horse with an anesthetic. The horse, in a matter of seconds, begins to look sleepy, and then rearranges his limbs as though he is a sodden drunk. At that point, Horse couldn't give a shit what you want to do with his mouth, which is prime for the vet to bring out his power files and saw/file down those crags of tooth.

Horses have no nerves to their teeth, so the noise of the drill/rasp might annoy them, but they're in no pain.

Dink had no loose teeth, and his teeth were not in too bad a shape. But this was a necessary maintenance operation, and I must say that in subsequent days, I took pleasure in hearing his teeth grind properly as he snarfed his food. It's a sound that I should have missed months before, and just didn't. But I know it now, and won't overlook it again.

There is no post-operative trauma with this procedure, and the next morning, Dink was raring to go.

He yawns after we ride ... I wonder if he is as tired as I am?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Much-Improved Horse

This morning, when I finally dragged my weary body to the ranch, Dink jerked his head up at my approach and walked quickly to me.

He shoved his head into the halter I held out, and walked briskly with me to the tack area. There he shifted from foot to foot until I sprayed him with fly spray, and then offered to give me a little bitey-witey when I was within reach.

Back to his old self.

His dapper demeanor dissipated most of my weariness, and in minutes we were headed out the gate. Today, he really took close notice of everything: a farmer inspecting his sprinklers in the orchards, a kid on a quad, a horde of crows congregating for mischief. His pace was back to his usual soldier march, and we even trotted for a while, with lots of enthusiasm in his step.

On the way home, my hat blew off onto the road. Dink didn't care, seeing it fly off behind him. And he was perfect as I bent down from the saddle and picked the hat up with the tip of my riding crop ... which I appreciated because getting up in the saddle is a major effort these days. What a good horse.

When we were done, I gave him a dose of SandClear and a few cups of sweet feed. He gobbled avidly, which is just what I wanted to see. Dink with no appetite is definitely ill.

I did note, however, that when he was eating the feed, bits of it were falling from his mouth. That probably means that his teeth need to be floated -- filed down so that he can chew evenly. Wonderful, a whopping vet bill. Still, it beats the hell out of having a vet come out because he's sick.

Thank God for his great improvement.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Days in a Row?

Whew! If I thought I was tired last night after the two-hour ride, I was wrong.

I pried myself from bed this morning at 7am to try to wake up enough to be out at the ranch again at 8:30. I took vitamins, I drank tea, I ate breakfast. I got out there by 8:40, without a spark of enthusiasm.

My horse was okay overnight, thank God. He'd taken a poop just before I got there, and he was eager to go out and DO something. But oh, when I sat in the saddle, I was all too aware of where I was sore.

Nevertheless, Cathy the Mad Horsewoman and I set off on our aged mounts, and again, rode for two hours. Both horses were calm, and maybe a little draggy, until we hit an orchard where the verges (You should never go straight through an orchard -- it pisses the farmers off something terrible) were five inch deep muck from having received irrigation water the night before. The horses switched from shuffling lazily along to having to watch their footing, and Cathy the Mad and I had to switch from just sitting there to watching carefully and guiding the horses to the firmest possible footing. (A horse who thinks he might get mired begins to leap and lunge to get out of it, which could be disastrous for two old ladies.)

Cathy confessed when we got back on dry orchard road that her palms were sweating; the horses had decided that they'd had enough adventure and were ready to go home; my rear end still hurt, but we all had to agree to go the remainder of the hour and a half. On we went.

The morning was cool and gently breezy, the horses calm, the roads clear of machinery or commotion. It was a good ride. At the end of it, Dink even took a few swipes at eating the mulberry tree near the tack room -- a good sign. When I walked him toward his pasture-paddock, he dragged me to the side to crop the thick green grass of the ranch owner's yard -- another good sign. And when I put him into the pasture, he called again for the other horses, but then began to eat the food we'd left for him the night before.

I oozed home, ate lunch, worked a little on the Press, and now can't wait for bedtime. I went to the store to buy some "sweet feed" for Dink, and some "SandClear." The SandClear won't clear him of me, but if he's got dirt in his gut making him colicky, it'll drag some of that junk out. I'll try to dose him with it tomorrow.

And do another ride, but it's not going to be another two hour jaunt.

Well, unless I wake up and feel ten years younger tomorrow.

Which is unlikely, as I feel as though if a bunch of ancient Egyptian embalmers showed up outside the bedroom window, I'd just roll over and say, "Go for it."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Older Horse

I was already out doing my rounds at the post office, the gas station, and the store when I finally turned my phone on for the day.

The "Voicemail" notice chimed as I was pulling into the Post Office parking lot to drop off a piece of critical mail and a couple contract copies. The message was that Dink was acting sort of colicky and they wanted me to come out to the ranch and have a look at him.

The gas tank was on "Empty," checks needed to be deposited, and I HAD to stop at the store if Bernie was to have a lunch to take to work, so I forged on, and less than an hour later was able to stop by the ranch in my luxurious long linen shirt and dainty little flip-flop sandals. Not horsewear.

Dink was in a small pasture by himself when I arrived, desultorily nibbling at the sparse grass and weeds. When I called "Duquesne!" his head shot up -- a good sign. If he was really sick, he'd be lackluster. I went to the fence and petted him, noting that he'd taken a small dump in the past few minutes. (I'm not going to describe how one knows that horse shit is fresh.)

I headed for home to change clothes, make lunch, pack Bernie's work lunch, unload groceries. Then it was back to the ranch.

Dink was kind of dull; he didn't try to nip me for fun, or drag me along while he tried to snarf some old hay. We stood under a mulberry tree in the shade, and he didn't try to eat any of the leaves. That concerned me. I groomed him up a little, and put an ear to his side, listening for the normal noisy gut sounds that mean a healthy horse.

There were a couple gurgles, but not enough. I set off down the road, leading him -- exercise can help a horse's bowels move, as long as there is no twisted segment. But a horse with a twist in his intestines is in agony, and Dink was just ... dull.

20 minutes out the road, 20 minutes back. I led him to a deep water trough, and he sipped and played in the water for a while. I listened again to his sides. A little more noise, maybe? We set off down the road again, and this time, if I trotted, he did, too, a little.

By the time we were back, Bernie was waiting for me at the ranch, and so was Harry, the ranch owner. We talked about older horses and colic and the horrific cost of veterinary visits; Harry brought a shallow pail of All-In-One (alfalfa, molasses, and something else) and let Dink eat some of it. Harry was concerned that Dink had reacted badly to a new load of hay. Dink ate a little, drank a little more water; I heard more gurgles in his gut, I was sure of it.

Bernie went to work and Harry advised me to either walk Dink, or ride him, since he wasn't in distress. I saddled the Little Duke and off we went, me praying for him to take a crap.

Dink was agreeable to the ride, not lagging or trying to turn back. He wasn't doing his usual Little Soldier March, but he was moving freely, ears listening for sounds in the orchards. I took the long path around the almond, walnut, and kiwi orchards -- about two hours. Five minutes before we got back to the ranch, Dink stopped, lifted his tail, and deposited a huge pile of meadow muffins on the road.

When I returned him to the pasture for the evening, he was incensed that he was separated from the other horses, and was bugling deafeningly to show his annoyance. That is good. If he's mad, he'll pace and throw tantrums, and that will keep him "moving" so to speak.

I'll go out again tomorrow morning (creaking and groaning, no doubt) and take him out for another turn.

Monday, June 08, 2009


This morning my email contained a message from the nursing home, saying that my mother did fine over the weekend, and was already "taking care" of her roommate.

Almost three years ago, I went for a walk in the morning, very depressed by what I heard in my mother's words and voice. While Howie and I walked out beyond the houses and neighborhood, I cried, not knowing what to do. Then, through an unexpected patter of raindrops, I saw a rainbow in the sky.

Seeing it, I remembered God's promise to Noah, sending his "bow" in the sky to remind us that he would never again destroy the earth by flood. I took that rainbow as a promise to me, that day, that everything would work out the way it should, that God holds all of us, all of our circumstances in his hand.

And so He has. Had my sister simply settled into life at the group home, and not become ill, I would never have known about the nursing home called The Hearthside; my mother would have sunk deeper into dementia and I would not have had any personal contact to reach out to her. But my sister's suffering allowed me to get to know the personnel at the Hearthside, and prepare a welcoming place for my mother when the time came.

Thanks, Jan. You forged a path for us.

Thank You, God, for your mercy and your providence.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Day of Rest

How about some rich color today? There it is, the heart of a camellia!

Bernie and I went to see "Up" again -- this time in 2D. I really enjoyed it, and could see no part of the film that was diminished without the 3D -- especially the entire "not wanting to puke" experience. Charming film! How timely to know that Senior Citizens can be heroes or super-villains as they are moved to do so... tomorrow I become eligible for Tuesday Senior Discount at the local supermarket! There is still time for me to decide: Hero or Villain?

For today, I don't feel like deciding anything. The past two days have been as relaxing as if I had been given a drug. The phone doesn't have tension-filled voicemails on it, or troubling cryptic messages. My email has been free of drama and demands for immediate action. My dreams are still odd mish-mashes of stuff, but I'm not waking in the wee hours with my heart pounding, wondering what the hell is going to happen next, what the hell am I going to do, what if what if what if ...

I know it won't last, so I'm just enjoying the bejabbers out of the clement, gentle weekend.

Friday, June 05, 2009


What a day.

As soon as the nursing home staffers left with my mother, the bank officer called me. She told me that it was a tough time of it, with my mother refusing to cooperate. They left her to stew for a little while, and then said, "It's lunchtime. Come on, we'll take you to McDonald's." And thus, out the door she went with them, willingly, having forgotten what they were there for.

This evening, she was angry again, refusing to talk to anyone, but the main thing is that she's safe.

And if there was any lingering shred of doubt in my mind about whether this was the right thing to do, it was dispelled by another phone call from my mom's friend, who made time to be there this morning. While the bank people and the 24-hr care people and the nursing home people sweated around with Mom snarling at bay, he had a quick look at the basement and saw that almost all of my dad's tools were gone -- let's not put a nice face on it -- STOLEN.

Neighbors had seen the morning caregiver's boyfriend carrying heavy boxes out of the house some weeks ago. Well, now we know what was in the heavy boxes.

The friend confronted the 24-hr caregiver with this knowledge, and she called the police, saying the "retarded boy" from down the street must have done it. Oh, yes, a developmentally disabled boy WOULD jump at the chance to fence a chainsaw and hand tools in his spare time. Sure. He picked the locks of two doors without anyone noticing, AND managed to convince the boyfriend to carry the stuff out to the car and drive it to his home for him.

Well, maybe he would and could. Maybe red squirrels came in through the old chimney and carted stuff off to barter in the Barbados while they are on vacation. Maybe the tooth fairy got fed up waiting for Mom's teeth to fall out and carried off shelves of tools for spite. Maybe it was aliens from outer space.

Somebody robbed a senile old woman while her caregiver smiled and made her an egg for breakfast, or a nice sandwich for lunch.

What is reasonably comforting is that the police aren't buying the hooey.

What's greatly comforting is ... Mom is safe, if tricked into the box trap by her love of junk food.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My Mother's House

I call it "My Mother's House" because she took possession of it not so very long after she moved in there, stranger though she was to the family and town.

Dad figured out how to dig out a basement, and do the cement work, and shore up the foundations. I remember when it was nothing but a dirt crawlspace under the house. He built a stairway to the attic, finished the floors and insulated the roof; I remember when there was just a rough-hewn ladder in the pantry to get to the attic. (and I do mean rough -- there was bark clinging to the steps of the ladder!)

He put in a septic system, and indoor plumbing. I remember when there was still just an outhouse at the end of the yard. He made the back porch into a laundry room, he made the dirt below the porch into a graceful patio, the yard into a bountiful garden, the extra space into a greenhouse and nursery.

Dad did all that, and it was all for my mother, and she was the owner of it all.

Tomorrow morning, she has to relinquish her castle. She's being moved to a nursing home, which none of us really want, but is inevitable. Her caregivers have fallen short of their promises; her funds are dwindling. Alzheimer's has been her purgation: she's lost her memories, her strength, her knowledge, her control, and now her properties.

Part of me prayed that she would die in her sleep, like her brother Salvi, or that she would drop dead in her tracks, like her brother Buddy, rather than have to be removed to a nursing home. But she keeps on going, weak and tottery but still meaner than any other person I've ever met.

The other half of me is relieved that she won't die in that house, because she is so possessive that she would be sure to haunt it. There are enough ghosts in that house as it is; if she had infested it as a spirit, it would have been a war zone, because what ghosts there were would be from my father's family, all of whom she hated unconditionally.

Tomorrow the siege is broken; she will no longer hold the castle. The war is over.

Monday, June 01, 2009


I like the colors of this cluster of hopseed. The sunset light hit just perfectly to illuminate the pale greens against the dark shadows on the fence.

But that's not what this post is actually about; I'm just hedging.

The whole family went to see the new animated movie "Up" on Saturday. I'd been looking forward to it for a long time, although I was a bit dashed to learn it was in "3-D".

Apparently that's all the rage in animation these days. Last summer we saw "Bolt" in 3-D, and although I enjoyed the movie, I couldn't see why it ought to be made 3-D. The 25-cent 3-D glasses they sell you with the ticket (for $3) are clunky, heavy, and make the colors appear as though you put a 10% black wash over them with Photoshop. Dim. Dull. Drab. You get used to it, and compensate for it in a few minutes, but bleah, I don't need tricksome eye effects to enjoy CGI.

Not only did the whole family go to the movie, we also did something we don't usually do: to save John from having to walk up a lot of steps, we sat down only about halfway up the stadium seating. Usually I like to be near the top.

Before the movie started, there was what seemed like ten trailers for other 3-D animated films, all showing the most zoomie shots to show off the 3-D effects. Loud. Rapid scene change. On and on and on.

I was worn and irritable by the time the movie started, but I was immediately engaged by the tale (although the stumpified style of the art used for the characters was disappointing). We got about 15 minutes into the movie and I felt a strange sensation in my innards. Then I began to shake and pour sweat and feel dizzy. "I think I'm going to be sick," I whispered to Bernie, and bolted for the Ladies' room. Bernie followed, guiding my disoriented flight.

The last time I ran out of a place for a restroom was due to a magnificent case of food poisoning. This felt just like that did -- oh, no, I thought, the chicken piccata I had for lunch must have gone over! 

However, once I darted into a bathroom stall, and braced myself on both walls with my arms because I felt wobbly, the feeling began to abate. I know nausea can come in waves, so I waited ... and felt better by the second. I stopped sweating.

By the time I was done washing my hands and running water over my wrists, I felt well enough to realize what had happened: the 3-D had made me motion-sick.

Maybe if we had sat near the top of the theater, it wouldn't have bothered me -- I don't know. But nothing could induce me to re-enter the theater. Bernie was going to take me home, and then come back for the rest of the family, but to my chagrin, they all came trooping out of the theater. Lillian took my hand and told me that "Family is much more important than any movie."

They all chimed in. John said, "My back was killing me, and those 3-D glasses made my eyes hurt anyway." Alex said, "That opening sequence was almost too much for me. I'd rather watch the rest on DVD at home sometime, anyway." It was an amazing show of support.

I still feel like a jerk. Rollercoasters didn't bother me, boats don't bother me, airplanes don't bother me -- I love best the little commuter planes that toss around in the air. But 3-D is not for me.