Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking Horse

August 27

August 31

Can you see it? I realize that in the second picture he's wet and it's also getting dark, but after only five days Corny already looks slimmer to me.  He hasn't quite reached will-o-the-wisp size , and we haven't given him the new nickname of "Tiny" yet; but the guy's smaller! 

I've worked him walk/trot/canter (just a little of the last) on the longe line in the arena every day, with the time being increased from an initial twenty minutes up to thirty minutes.   We take a brisk walk up and down the hills around the pond afterwards, so he's out and about for a total of around an hour.    I also rode him for half an hour on Sunday.  This exercise, plus getting exactly half of his former rations seems to be doing the trick.  He's still got a ways to go, but I'm relieved that he's showing progress so quickly.  He, not surprisingly, is much less enthusiastic about all this than I am, but he's being a pretty good sport.  And he's looking forward to being called "Tiny" in the very near future.

As for Sarah; the vet comes out tomorrow to check her over.  Please keep a good thought. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Corny Conditioning Clinic: Day 1

Enthusiasm from the portly prime participant was decidedly lackluster
Yesterday we began Corny's long journey from fat to fit.  He went down to work in the arena not once, but twice.  These photos are from his very first session that was early in the morning.  As out of condition and overweight as he is, I don't want to overdo it things at first.  I'm timing these first workouts at 20 minutes apiece and, even then, not asking our hefty boy to do too much.

When we first brought him down to the arena, I started off by just letting him just run around for a few minutes.  He started out all spanky and full of snort and prance but this quickly drained away after a couple of turns around the arena. 


 Within minutes, he was huffing and puffing and planted himself in a corner, hoping to be haltered and led back up to his pen for his breakfast.

Instead, he was haltered and lunged, first at a walk and then a trot.  Again, he started out with energy...

...but soon became winded and wanted to stop and had to be sternly told to keep those legs moving.  He had a little bit of "attitude," but all in all tried his best.  The poor guy has no stamina because he's spent the entire summer eating and taking long naps under the oak trees.  That's my fault.

It didn't help Corny's morale that he had a fascinated audience loafing around the arena giving him useless fitness advice.

We did our best to ignore them all and just keep going for that whole looooong twenty minutes. 

When it was all over, Corny got a well-deserved hosing off to wash off his twenty minutes of sweat.  He needed it!  He loves it when I let the cool water dribble behind his ears.  His head sinks lower and lower.  Silly boy!

He then got his meager breakfast of a half flake of hay.  Later that afternoon I actually saddled up and rode him for another twenty minutes in the arena.  I think we can safely assume that Corny slept well that night.

I'm thinking that I'll post weekly updates on how Corny is doing on his diet.  That should help keep me motivated.  I must admit that, after riding Corny yesterday for the first time in many months, I'm very saddle sore today.  He's become so broad that wrapping my legs around him is like sitting astride an overstuffed sofa.  Another reason to trim down.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This Mortal Coil

I began a post about Corny's first two days of his weight loss program, but I'll finish that tomorrow because...

Today we got dressed in our go-to-town clothes and went to the Ikea store in Sacramento.  What nudged us out the door was the fact that, once again, I had stupidly left a hose running and we had no water until the well had recharged.  Being home without any water on a hot August Sunday is miserable -- time to get out of Dodge. 

So, off we went.  Unfortunately, Ikea was a zoo.  Legions of screaming babies; extremely loud and awful piped in rock music blasting out everywhere; people swarming everywhere like ants.  After driving two hours to get there, we could hardly get out fast enough.  We stopped at a hardware store in Stockton on the way home to pick up some things we needed.  And then, as the sun was going down behind the hills, home. 

Bruce parked the car in the carport and I got out and went up the two steps to the house.  Then I heard the "Chh-chh-chh" of the sprinkler and was confused.  The water had been off when we left the house.  Had I, once again, left a hose on?  I stood on the step, holding my schoolbag and purse, listening to the sprinkler and trying to figure out where the water was on.  Then Bruce got out of the car.  The next few moments were a bit of blur.  Bruce yelled, "It's a snake!"  and I instantly executed the most elevated leap of my life, from that second step to a distant spot halfway across the driveway. 

The sound I'd been hearing was the whirring of a rattlesnake's tail, not the whirring of a sprinkler.  You'd think that after all the years of living here, I'd know the difference.  And said snake was coiled under the very step I'd just been standing on. 

I put the dogs in the kennel, out of harms way, while Bruce got together an action plan.  Then I bravely stood on a bench while Bruce pried up a board of the steps and grabbed the rattler with the snake tongs.  It was one of the largest ones I've ever seen -- and it was furious.  The snake tongs were wet with its venom as it repeatedly bit at it.  It gives neither of us any joy to have to kill any animal at Frogpond, but Bruce had no choice.  It simply was too large and dangerous. 

Still, it makes me sad.  The snake was magnificent.

This is so the crux of what life is like here.  At times it all seems so tamed and safe.  But then the elemental side bursts back to the forefront and it hits us again that things can be as wild at Frogpond Acres as in the African Savannah or some Brazilian jungle.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Too Little / Too Big

Too Big
Too Little


    Last evening, when I came home, two related problems that I've been worrying over (but doing nothing about) finally were put squarely in front of me to deal with.  Both problems center around the horses.  Raleigh, our horseshoer, came to trim their feet yesterday.  She's wonderful at what she does with the horses' feet, but we also have the kind of relationship where I'm comfortable asking her opinion on how they are doing, and she's honest and forthright in her answers.  Her honest and forthright answer yesterday was:  Sarah is too thin and Corny is waaaaay too fat. 

    Of course, I'm not blind and have been watching this unfold and trying to deal with it (sort of) all summer long.  But now it's time to really do something about both situations.  Raleigh said so, and I'm grateful to her for that.

Sarah, impatiently wanting her dinner

Sarah is thin because she's 31 years old and has bad teeth.  Three years ago we brought her to the vet clinic to have the points on her teeth filed down (this is called "floating the teeth" in horsey vernacular).  She had an extremely bad reaction to the sedation and fell over in massive convulsions.  As I watched her thrash around on the ground, I thought she was going to die.  The vet managed to get out of it, but I decided that I would never put her through this again. 

    Now she has a lump on her jaw and we suspect another sharp tooth may be the culprit.  We'll be calling the vet out to take a look.  I'm not sure what we'll do if it is a tooth causing the problem.  Maybe there's a different sedative he can use.  Maybe it's not a tooth causing the lump at all (but I think it is).  Maybe we'll have to make the decision to put her down.  Lots of maybes.  She's also very stiff and arthritic and has been gradually declining for years now -- Sarah simply suffers from being old.  That said, she still loves me to scratch her belly and rub the back of her ears.  I've been keeping my eye on her and it seems like she still enjoys being alive.

    To be honest, I wish that one morning I would go outside and simply find that Sarah had peacefully slipped into death during the night.  However, this hasn't happened and it's time to see what must be done. 

Look at that pretty face!

Sarah loves her Equine Senior

We give Sarah as much food as she'll eat. 

Twice a day, she gets 2 1/2 scoops of Equine Senior and a flake of alfalfa hay.  She eats slowly, but eventually chows most of it down. 

Fat Boy

    Corny, on the other hand, is a pig.   He always puts on weight in the springtime when the grass comes in, so he began the year plump and has grown fatter with each passing month. I exercised him a few times, but then stopped.  No excuses, other than I got busy with other things over the summer and put it off so many times that eventually I gave up on doing it at all.  And now, to my horror and dismay, Raleigh tells me he's turned into a blimp.  And something must be done.  Immediately.


    I'd unrealistically hoped that by feeding him separately from Sarah and limiting the amount and type of hay he got, he wouldn't put on too much weight.  No such luck.  Horses with metabolisms like Corny's are called "air ferns" after those plants that manage to suck nutrients out of the air.  Corny can pack on the pounds eating two small flakes of grass hay a day.  Even with this tiny amount, I'm overfeeding the boy.

Corny stuffing down his few meager scraps of hay


    So, thanks to his stern Auntie Raleigh, Cornelius has just become the charter (and only) member of the Frogpond Fat Farm.  This morning, bright and early, he started his new exercise and feeding regimen. 

He is not amused.

Tomorrow:   Corny's New Life: The Nightmare Begins!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Amaryllis Belladonna

These are the strangest plants.  Amaryllis belladonna, also known as Naked Ladies, have strap-like green leaves which grow from large bulbs in the spring.  These die completely down for the entire summer and then in August, from the parched earth, the plants send up a shoot which forms a pink flower bud. They look like plants from an old B movie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Fowl Day

An exciting day at the pond.  Most Wednesdays, Bruce is able to work from home, so he's able to keep an eye on things.  Today the pond was hopping!

We had visitors:  five Great Blue Herons, four Egrets, our wild turkey family and about eight Canada Geese.  The wild birds and the domestics get along pretty well.

The Great Blue Herons did some tusseling.

The ducks did some yawning.

One of the herons went on to do a bit of ballet... 

...while another did an exquisite routine on a floating log.

Even Mama Turkey and her brood joined the Frogpond craziness.                                      
A happy day at the pond!


Monday, August 22, 2011

One Day Later

    The sorrow at losing Auntie Goose to a coyote has been greatly eased by the other two geese carrying on stoically.  This is a huge relief.  Many years ago when we had only two geese, one of them suddenly died.  The other one grieved for days and his crying for his mate was heartrending.  This time, the other two seem a little quieter than usual, but that's about it.  Today, when I got home, a small flock of Canada geese had flown in and were hanging out with our remaining Auntie Goose and Methuselah, the old gander.  Usually I'm irritated when the Canadas come because they poop all over the place and eat prodigious amounts of grain.  But today I was glad that they'd come to hang out at Frogpond. 

    Yesterday was a work at home sort of Sunday.  Bruce and Murphy took a huge trailer-load of several weeks worth garbage to the Milton landfill.  Does this look like four week's worth of trash?  It was a relief to get the stuff off the place. 

Murphy was ecstatic to come along.  He LOVES going to the dump with his dad.

Once again, Murphy was hoping to drive.  Bruce also likes to drive, so Murphy was (thankfully) out-voted. 

Sunday was also barn-cleaning day.  All the junk that you see in the background of this picture is stuff from the stalls that was hauled out and hosed off.  Things had gotten pretty filthy in there and it was high time that the place got a much-needed (and very belated) spring cleaning.

Off they went: a very happy Bear and his dog.  I stayed home and did schoolwork (I'd rather have been at the dump!)

From this...

 When they got back, we got to work on the barn.  It took most of of the afternoon, but we managed to get everything cleaned, sorted and back into the barn.
...to this.

    The best part of the day was when I accidentally squirted one of the fluorescent lights above the barn walkway and this rudely awakened Pallid Bat poked its nose out.  I brought out Bruce's fancy camera and he took this amazing photograph.  Look at that little face!  The pointy teeth are adorable, but it's the ridges fanning out in those huge Dumbo ears that really get me. Also captivating are the claws so delicately gripping the edge of the light fixture.  And who wouldn't fall in love with those sweet, piggy nostrils?  And look at the huge dark eyes -- quite remarkable for a bat (doesn't his face seem asymmetrical?  His mouth and teeth don't line up with his nose).  Did you know that bats yawned?  This little guy did -- the cutest, sleepiest, I'm-awake-in-the-daytime sort of yawn.  He stayed and glared at us for a few minutes before scootching out from the light and flitting off towards the trees in disgust...

As I write this, it's a little after nine at night and a coyote just started howling and yipping on the hill above the pond.  The dogs are barking like crazy and Bruce just went out with his gun.

Frogpond is a complicated place.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

While I Was Sleeping

    This morning, just before we started eating breakfast, Bruce paused and said, "I hate that cycle of life crap."  And I immediately knew that one of our animals had died. 

    At five this morning he'd been awakened by the dogs barking up a storm in the barn and then he heard the geese honking.  He got the flashlight and he and the dogs ran in the dark down to the pond.  There was a coyote standing on the hill with a white shape nearby in the grass.  The coyote watched Bruce for a moment, then Bruce gave a yell and it took off running.  Bruce's first thought was that the coyote had gotten a duck.  His second thought was that this was sad but perhaps not such a bad thing, given their overabundance.  But it wasn't a duck; it was one of the Auntie Geese.  She was still alive, but so badly hurt that Bruce came back to the house for his 22 and finished her off to end her suffering.  I'm extremely fortunate to be married to a man who can deal with a situation like this so well.

    Barking, yelling, gunshots.  All this happened, and I never woke up.  Just as well.  The down side to having and loving so many animals is that, by the nature of things, they enter and leave our lives quite regularly.  Fortunately, the majority of them aren't personal friends, so letting go is sad but relatively easy.  However, this isn't the case for the animals who have been with us for a long time and forged strong bonds through a shared history.  When they die, I cry.

    Auntie goose (and her sister, the other Auntie Goose -- I never could tell them apart) had been a member of the family for at least 12 years.  She never had any goslings of her own, but was sweetly maternal towards all of the other waterfowl's offspring.  Loving all feathered babies, she was never happier than when she was in the midst of a newly hatched group of ducklings.  If she'd been human, she'd have been one of those bosomy maiden ladies who hold out their arms to cuddle other people's infants. 

    So today my heart hurts for the loss of a pretty white goose.  I know that in the great scheme of things this isn't such a big tragedy, but she was a friend and it's only right that I should miss her.  And, for today, I have to agree with Bruce and say that I also hate that cycle of life crap. 

Give me a few days and I'll get myself back on an even keel.  Although it's painful right now, I'm incredibly blessed to have so many animals to love.

Good Auntie Goose!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Glover Brovers

Several weeks ago Bruce lay his work gloves on the porch rail and came inside. And, snap!, just like that, they were transformed into prime Frogpond real estate. 

Lift the gloves now, and the new tenants glance upwards nervously at having their roof removed. 

They are four of the sweetest little Pacific Tree Frogs you'd ever want to see and have been duly christened The Glover Brovers.

 Needless to say, Bruce won't be wearing his gloves any time soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Be Afraid...

Cream Puff Pups by Day...

                                         ...Demented Demon Dogs by Night!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blackberry Wine

The second day of 4th grade has been successfully navigated.  Even after meeting with our principal and the other 4th grade teacher plus then getting my room ready for tomorrow, I still managed to get home 45 minutes earlier than yesterday. 

Ahh, all the reason needed to celebrate with a glass of wine and a leisurely stroll around the pond.

(I notice that there appear to be interesting green "floaties" dangling in my wine.  Not so.  In reality, this is the upside down reflection of the nearby trees)

The dogs and I muscled our way through the throngs of ducks and geese milling around the grain pans, stuffing their faces.  To say they are a confident, greedy bunch is an understatement.

August is such a hot, dusty month here, but when the sun begins to set, the light turns everything golden.  This is my favorite time of day.

When we reached the willows on the dam, I checked out the blackberries to see what was left of them.  Surprisingly, although the older fruit is drying up, there still are a lot of the plump beauties still ripening up.  Standing there, contentedly picking berries with my right hand and holding my glass of wine in my left, it was only a matter of a few moments to wonder what the berries would taste like in the glass.

And so I began dropping them in, one by one.  No, I didn't wash the berries first, and yup, now there really were a few "floaties" in there.  Nothing too dramatic though; just a bit of cottonwood fluff and some of the dried flower stamens.  No worries.  I have no problem ingesting a small amount of nature from time to time -- and I did check for things like bugs and small spiders floating around (even I have my limits).


The first sip was the best.  I can attest to the fact that Riesling flavored with fresh blackberries "works."  After that first sip, though, I just wanted to get to the berries themselves.  The berries steeped in wine were better than the wine steeped in berries. 

I'd planned to save a few for Bruce for when he got home.  But this was not to be -- the ducks and geese have nothing on me:  I'm greedy too!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Turkey Tales

    The first day of school is now safely past.  The week or so leading up to it are so hectic and crunched for time that it's a relief to actually finally be in the school year instead of madly preparing for it.  This year had the added excitement of 150 new students who were transferred over from the big elementary school in town due to overcrowding.  We also got 6 new teachers who also came over.  That's a lot of new faces, but it's energizing to have this new mix of people thrown into our little group. 

    This morning when I left for school, I found a large bronze turkey feather gleaming on the ground when I got out of the car to close the driveway gate.  I picked it up and brought it with me -- a beautiful Frogpond talisman. When I got to school, I put it in the pencil holder on my desk.

    Ducks aren't the only birds that have been procreating like crazy around here this summer; the wild turkeys are right up there with them.  Last Thursday morning I was setting off just a little late for my first staff meeting of the year.  When I reached the top of the drive I had to put on the brakes and slow almost to a stop because I was being blocked by three or four mama turkeys and their combined broods of around 40 half-grown babies.  They had been having a leisurely stroll down the drive but got more nervous and sped up a bit as the car got closer.  Under other conditions I would have stopped and enjoyed the show, but I didn't have a minute to spare.  So I eased the car into low gear and sort of scooted the turkeys ahead of me.  Some took off and flapped over the fence to the right, some over the fence to the left, and a few stretched out their long turkey legs and trotted in front of me.  Although they all kept wary eyes on me, none of them were too frightened.  We made quite an impressive procession as we made our way down that drive. 

    So this is what I was thinking about when my group of little half-grown human turkeys lined up in front of my classroom door this morning.  They, too, had nervous faces as I scooted them out of summer and into my classroomBut they, like my feathered turkeys at home, also weren't about to get over-the-top freaked out either.  And when I lined the class up later to take their pictures for their portfolios, I laughed when I thought of these pictures that Bruce took a few weeks ago.

I think it's going to be a good year.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Weekend Before School Starts

    This past week I've been to school every day working on getting my classroom ready for Monday, when my new class of 4th graders marches in.  For some insane reason (I can't remember why I thought that this was such a great idea) I decided that I needed to change my entire room around and redo every single bulletin board.  This has ended up taking hours and hours.  And hours.  Today was Saturday and I went in to try to finish the walls.  Bruce and Becky were angels and both came to help me, but the boards still weren't finished until 5:00.  I still have the rest of the classroom to put into at least some sort of order (there are piles of things everywhere), so I'm going to have to go in tomorrow too.  This is disappointing, as I really wanted at least one day of rest before school starts. However, I'm making the best of it and will try to get finished as quickly as possible tomorrow. 

    Despite the pressures of school,  I'm still determined to keep blogging.  Very early this morning I took a walk around the pond with the dogs.  I remembered my cup of coffee, but forgot my camera until I was too far to want to go back.  "Ah well," I thought, "What are the chances that there will be anything happening worth taking a picture of?"  Hah!  It turns out that the chances were excellent.
    I reached the far side of the pond, and there on the shore ahead of me were the middle group of young ducks (the ones we call The Popcorn Brigade) standing in a picturesque line on top of the fallen pine tree.  Darn it!!! So I sped up my walk and headed back to the house to get my camera.  When I reached the big gate to the house, there was our mama wild turkey with her new brood of tiny turkeys clustered around the grain pan looking extremely photogenic.

     Ack!  I ran inside and got the camera.  When I got back outside, the mama turkey and babies had melted off into the bushes; so no pictures there.  However, when I got back to the downed pine tree, I was relieved to find that although most of the ducks had jumped down, several were still aboard.  Yes! 

    I simply can't get over having ducks who like to get up on high places.  It just seems so strange.  They also seem very pleased to be surveying the world from up there.


 This was a wonderful way to start the day.