The horse's pasture to the East...

Monday, April 25, 2016

ANNIE OAKLEY RIDES AGAIN, in to the sunset...

She wasn't cute or cuddly, sweet or thankful she'd been saved. She didn't come to me every evening and curl up in my lap and purr. Annie Oakley was fierce, combative, angry, irritated and worthy of your praise Go@d*mn It! She was a F^CK!NG LION-NESS (pun intended)! You were only safe if she was full and sleeping. Then she would let you pass. And if the moon wasn't just exactly right she would reach out and swat you, hiss at you, SCREECH at you if she damn well felt like it. Life is a beeaatch and she was the embodiment of said bitch in every way. But everyone has a story and her's is well worth telling.

Fourteen years ago, while I was on my journey to learn about how to find and buy the right horse for me, I stumbled in to one of those Hell on Earth places. It was owned by a kill buyer, a woman who haunted the Saturday auctions in Missouri and Kansas, buying horses for fifty dollars a piece because no one else did. She'd fatten them up and stuff them on to a trailer, haul them to Mexico and sell them to slaughter houses. But I didn't know that when I sought her place out. I'd seen an ad on line with these idealized pictures of green pastures and lovely Curlies for sale. I was interested in knowing more about them. They were one of the horses on my 'yes' list to bring home with me. 

When I drove in I knew it was going to be bad. I'd read about places like this but wasn't really sure they existed. I was appalled that anyone would live voluntarily in filth, treat animals with such distain or even have the nerve to advertise her herd for sale with obvious lies.

The fields were mud wallers with too many horses in them, some starving, sick, injured and neglected. Their hooves were nightmares (pun horribly intended) and eyes were glazed with distress, pain and fear. Bellies were distended with malnutrition, coats were dull and, in some cases, were coming off. In one corner of the field, visible from the road, was a mare with a prolapsed uterus, head hanging and a too small colt at her side. She tried to nudge it back towards her teats despite the pain she was in but her baby was too wobbly. It kept falling over. 

I had two choices. Leave and have nothing to do with this place or go in with my game face on and get as much evidence as I could so I could report what was going on here. I sat there on the drive for a moment trying to compose myself, cleaned up my face (I was crying!) and drove in. I saw things that day that were like a battlefield of wounded animals. I still see it clear as day. The mind holds on to horror sometimes, maybe to keep you alert, to keep you safe so you won't repeat the experience. As hard as I've tried to let them go, the memories are still there. 

She greeted me like we were best friends and it was a great day to go shopping. Looking back on it, I'm pretty sure she was a psychopath, one of those people with a missing conscience and total lack of empathy or compassion. In short, I was in dangerous territory. I was there by myself with no way to call for help if I needed it. Her eyes were dead cold. She was the perfect embodiment of a predator. 

I wasn't there long. I was loosing my composure. She thought she had a sucker on the line and, weirdly enough, bragged about her kill buyer status. The horses were terrified of her and so was I. On the way back to my car we walked through her barn at my request. I could smell what was coming before we went in but I wanted to have as much evidence as possible. In Missouri as well as Kansas the law is in favor of the abuser. Unless there are dead animals in multiples and a possible health hazard, the sheriff would do nothing. 

The barn must be haunted now. I saw the kind of suffering that leaves a tear in the continuum. In the middle of the unspeakable were cats and kittens everywhere. They were horrible too; covered in fleas, malnourished and some lying in dark corners obviously dead. They tried to get out of the way but weren't fast enough. I still blame myself for what happened next. I was the one who took us in there. More may have survived if we'd just walked around the outside of the barn.

She said, " Thar's too many of these damn cats. Might as well just stomp on them." And that was what she started to do, laughing while she did it. Cats scattered as fast as they could but there were some who couldn't or they lingered, trying to protect their kittens. And I lost it! As I ran for the car I scooped up kittens, stuffing them in to my pockets and carrying as many as I could hold. I took off down the driveway, not stopping to put on my seatbelt or even to fully close the door until I was out on to the highway. My truck was full of crying babies and I was one of them. I cried so hard I had to stop at a Walmart, one of my least favorite places to shop, one I usually avoid. I couldn't see to drive safely and there were starving, hungry kittens clinging to me. 

I ran in to the store, leaving the windows open a crack and thankful it was a cool, grey day, knowing the car would not heat up. After cleaning myself up, washing my hands over and over, I walked around the store buying supplies to keep kittens clean and warm, tiny bottles to feed them with and kitten formula. I was glad they carried those things, surprised in fact. I took them back to the truck and pulled frightened, hungry kittens out from under the seats, fed them each one at a time and put them down inside boxes employees had found for me, with blankets to keep them warm. Flea baths would have to wait until I got home.

I'd saved nine kittens, only nine. And it took two years to get that place closed down too. But that's another story. This is Annie's. She was the loudest of the group of bedraggled orphans I had scooped up. She fought with me, scratching me while she ate and, despite her distended over full stomach demanded more. She didn't stay in the box either. She pulled herself out and kept climbing up my leg, scratching and hissing, insisting I feed her more. It was a long drive home.

She earned her name when I sat her down and our half coyote, Newman, came up to investigate. He was one of the kindest souls we've ever had the pleasure of living with and ended up being the surrogate parent for the other kittens, all of them except Annie. Annie took one look at Newman, jumped on to his beloved, bushy tail and hung on screeching. Newman ran in desperate circles trying to get this tiny demon off of him but she was relentless.

" Feed me NOW! Or I will kill you dead. AAAARRROOOOoooooooo!" I couldn't tell  if the aaarrrooo was coming from Newman or the kitten. But she did ride his tail until he fell over, exhausted and dizzy. She dismounted, not bothering to look back at him and walked in to the kitchen and demanded more milk NOW! Annie Oakley was home to stay. And I did what she told me to do because that was the way it was with everyone when it came to Annie. 

I found homes for all the other kittens. I'd fed them, cleaned them up, wormed them and they had first inoculations. They were, all of them, sweet and funny. There were kittens everywhere and the way they slept on top of Newman made it easy to find them homes, all of them except Annie. She snarled, howled, hissed and fought her way to the front of the food bowls. I learned to keep her in a separate place so the other babies had a chance for nurturing and food without a fight. And I spent countless hours over the years trying to find a way to connect with Annie, to ease her endless need to fight. 

Annie was the perfect embodiment of an animal with PTSD. Nothing and everything would set her off. Her only friends were Crazy Joe Cocker and, later, Apple. When Joe died of old age I thought we were going to loose her too. She spent two days laying on top of the place we'd buried him, hissing at me if I came near. I'd walk out several times a day, trying to console her. It was no use. She was abandoned and without her friend. Everyone loved Joe and Annie loved him most of all. 

She disconnected even more but allowed us to inhabit the same house with her as long as her bowl of food was constantly full and she had fresh cream every day. She still had nothing to do with us, until I brought Apple home. 

I don't know why she chose Apple. Maybe it's because everyone loves Apple too, like our Joe. From the first day Annie slept with Apple, groomed her face and followed her around. When Apple was trying to understand what horses were Annie showed her. Annie walked up to Lucky and hissed at him until he backed up. Then she stalked over to Apache and stole food from his grain bowl, standing right smack dab in the middle of it completely unafraid. Thankfully the horses have a sense of humor and were more curious than worried. Nothing happened so Apple learned to hang with the horses without fear and they accepted her because Annie told them to. In Annie's world it was all very simple. Do what she told you to do and you would be allowed to live with all body parts intact. 

I never gave up on her. I fed her bowls of cream, cans of oily tuna fish, home made food. She never did gain much weight or grow very much. People thought she was still a kitten. I would pet her, she would scratch me. I'd talk to her, sing to her, croon to her but it was Joe and, later, Apple that she sought out for company. She was an independent soul who came and went as she pleased and she survived for fourteen years against all of my expectations. 

And then, last Friday, she went outside one more time. She was so frail it worried me but I never refused her any request. She was a good hunter and liked the outdoors, knew how to take care of herself. She hissed at me as she passed, the way she always did, and then she did something she'd never done, not in all of those fourteen years. She walked out and then she came back to me, stood in front of me as defiant as ever, looking me square in the eyes. And then she came up to me and wound herself around my leg and purred. Annie purred for me! And then she turned around and walked down the drive and straight out in to the north pasture, disappearing in to the tall grass with her tail straight out and never looking back.

She's gone. Apple knows it. She's gone out for days searching for her and so have John and I. She died on her own terms, in her own way, fiercely independent. In her mind she was always a lion and never just a couple of pounds of cat that was so severely malnourished she never grew very big. Her spirit was huge though. And she had her way to the end with no regrets. 

Annie was the embodiment of survival. She was wild in her heart and stayed with us because she chose to, not because we wanted her to. She left scars on my hands and my heart. The energy in the house has quieted down, too much. I miss her scrappy self. All of us do. 

Goodbye little warrior. I love you, you fierce bad cat. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, bereft. Two cats in one week are gone and my place is too quiet.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

MY BUDDY, GONE...He was a good fellow.

And then he was gone.

I've had cats in my life since I was a baby, first my Grandmother's cats and then my own. They're always a part of my background, coming and going on their own terms. And all of them have given me more than I gave them. The relationship wasn't like the one I have with my dogs. They weren't always cuddly or even highly demonstrative, but they were my friends none the less. 

They taught me about independence, grace, and being happy with what they had, being beautiful even in extreme old age or after a battering with another cat. I've doctored up more than one tattered ear, cleaned more than a few abssesses. 

Out here, on the preserve that we live on, there are predators ; coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls and eagles. We've had an occasional bear wander up from Arkansas and , for a few years, reports of a cougar. Our house/barn cats live an intense life and all of them are lean and athletic. They come and go at their own will. I rarely say no to them unless we are dealing with a serious injury or illness. And the Mama cats who show up either pregnant or carrying babies are always allowed in and out as often as they like. Every single Mama we've had over the years has taught her kittens to be good hunters. And we never give the babies away until they are at least ten weeks old, sometimes older. Mom is an important part of the socializing of cats as well as teaching them the survival skills they'll need in the world.

They hunt for their food as well as living here with us and having free choice kibble (Taste of the Wild, no grain, all natural) and home made food and all of the milk or cream that they want. It's probably the excellent food as much as the attention that keep them here. There are an unlimited number of field mice, rats, gophers and rabbits. They love to show their kill off to me too, frequently bringing it home and depositing whatever they've caught on the front door step or bringing it in to leave next to my side of the bed. But that is the nature of a cat and I would not change that, ever. I love the remnants of wildness in them.

Buddy was my cat right from the beginning. His Mama, Phoebe, is a dwarf. She has extremely short legs and a tiny, stubby tail. I call her my little Short Round. She turned up in the tree out in front, crying, one evening. She looked so much like Annie, our other grey cat, at the time I picked her up and brought her in without thinking about it. We were on the way to a movie in town and I like to bring my animals in, if possible, while we're away. We came home to two identical grey cats sitting on either end of the sofa in a face off. Turns out they were both pregnant at the same time too so we had two litters within a day of each other. Annie claimed her space upstairs, Phoebe was downstairs in my studio.

Buddy was Phoebe's first born and largest baby too. His Daddy must have been a big fellow because he had long legs and the longest tail I've ever seen on a cat. He was colored like fog with big yellow eyes and a surprisingly pink nose. He was the first out of the baby box, crawling up the side and finding his way down the hall to call to me from the bottom of the stairs just a few days after he'd opened his eyes. He spent his days being doted on by his Mom or sitting under my easel, crawling up my blue jeans or following Crazy Joe Cocker around. 

When I went on hikes he was the cat, along with the dogs, who always followed me. If he fell behind he would call and I would answer and wait. It was our own Marco Polo game; " Meow. Meeeeoow. MEEEOOW!" and me, " I'm here you silly cat, waiting. " And here he would come, gallumping up out of the woods, jumping from tree trunk to tall grass. He'd see me, sit down and clean his face and then follow me non challantly, " I wasn't lost. I meant to be right where I was. " He was my shadow, always there and more than willing to be acknowledged as the exceptional fellow he was.

I can't tell you if he was unusual. All cats are unusual. I can tell you that he was the extrovert. He would sit on a fence post and rub his face against one of the horses when they came over and he loved to sit between Apache's front feet and steal the first bite of grain, much to Apache's chagrin. I went out one morning to do chores and there Buddy was, asleep on top of Lucky. Lucky was stretched out in the clean bedding on his side, snoring . Buddy was laying there cuddled up under Lucky's winter mane, riding the wave of Lucky's deep breaths and kneeding away. Lucky had this goofy, "Man that feels good!" look on his face too. It's one of my favorite 'heart pictures' (memories that I didn't have a camera to catch). I sat down on the ground and leaned back against the stall wall, enjoying the wonderful, wacky world of Buddy.

And then he was gone. John found him at the top of the drive. He'd been run over, we think the night before. He was hard to see, probably why he had lived to the extraordinary age of thirteen. I'm guessing, hoping, it was an accident and that he never knew what hit him. It was unusual for him to be that far away from the house at night but he may have been chased by one of the new cats next door (Buddy didn't have a sense of territory. He probably went over to say 'Howdy!' and may have been bonked and chased) or it may have been one of the night time predators after him. 

John found him on my birthday and didn't want to tell me so he came on down the drive and then found a reason to go back that evening, to get him and bury him. He was gone, probably taken by, again, a coyote. It doesn't matter now. He wasn't in his body anymore. Nature takes care of it's own and he was definitely part of the landscape here.

I'm going to miss my little Buddy. The barn is too quiet and his beat up chair in the living room is vacant. He gave himself his own name in that way most cats do. We were calling him Buddy before his eyes were open because he loved to be held, would hear me coming and would call for me to pick him up. I will miss his deep gravel purr and his heavy little body asleep on top of my legs in the bed on cold nights. 

I'll see you again someday Buddy. I have no doubt you'll be there, winding yourself around my legs, when it's my turn to leave this world. We'll play our Marco Polo game as you lead me across only you'll be the one waiting and laughing.

I love you Buddy. 

I am, ever yours, Miss Nancy missing you...

Monday, April 18, 2016


"Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment chop wood, carry water."

I love the way time works. When you're very young, at the beginning of your life, it has no structure. It's like floating in a quiet pool with clouds suspended in the sky above you. There is no reference to the past or the future. You simply are, the perfect Zen state of BEing. All of your senses are working and the world is a clear slate waiting for you to write your story on it.

My Mom was 26 when she had me, 5 years after she married my father. She was so achingly young! And I was brand new, weighing less than six pounds. All I knew was the sound of her heart beat and breath.

Excerpts from an article titled SCIENTISTS DISCOVER CHILDREN'S CELLS LIVING IN MOTHER'S BRAINS, Scientific American, December 4, 2012

Microchimerism most commonly results from the exchange of cells across the placenta during pregnancy, however there is also evidence that cells may be transferred from mother to infant through nursing. In addition to exchange between mother and fetus, there may be exchange of cells between twins in utero, and there is also the possibility that cells from an older sibling residing in the mother may find their way back across the placenta to a younger sibling during the latter’s gestation. Women may have microchimeric cells both from their mother as well as from their own pregnancies, and there is even evidence for competition between cells from grandmother and infant within the mother.

What it is that fetal microchimeric cells do in the mother’s body is unclear, although there are some intriguing possibilities. For example, fetal microchimeric cells are similar to stem cells in that they are able to become a variety of different tissues and may aid in tissue repair. One research group investigating this possibility followed the activity of fetal microchimeric cells in a mother rat after the maternal heart was injured: they discovered that the fetal cells migrated to the maternal heart and differentiated into heart cells helping to repair the damage. In animal studies, microchimeric cells were found in maternal brains where they became nerve cells, suggesting they might be functionally integrated in the brain. It is possible that the same may be true of such cells in the human brain.

These microchimeric cells may also influence the immune system. A fetal microchimeric cell from a pregnancy is recognized by the mother’s immune system partly as belonging to the mother, since the fetus is genetically half identical to the mother, but partly foreign, due to the father’s genetic contribution. This may “prime” the immune system to be alert for cells that are similar to the self, but with some genetic differences. 

This is a burgeoning new field of inquiry with tremendous potential for novel findings as well as for practical applications. But it is also a reminder of our interconnectedness.

Robert Martone is the Neuroscience therapeutic area lead for The Covance Biomarker Center of Excellence located in Greenfield, Indiana. 
I love the last word in this article, " interconnectedness ". It's occurred to me that LIFE is actually like a symphony. The orchestration is perfect with all of our lives being instruments that add to the complicated interweaving of our parts of the song. We drop in to the chorus and sing for all we're worth and, when the timing is right, our song fades away allowing another's to enter and take center stage for a while. 
Threading through our song are the wind, rain, sunshine, animals and plants, oceans and earth. When you sit way out in the balconies, the nose bleeder sections reserved for students, you can hear the quiet ground work of the Universe, the true 'Music of the Spheres'. 
I am neither of the East nor of the West, no boundaries exist within my breast. Rumi
There are parts of my 'song' that came to me before I can remember them ; cats and dogs,horses, gardens, books, music and color. I don't remember when I learned to read. I remember being so small my Mom had to help me up on to the sofa so I could spend my day reading new books, looking at beautiful pictures and paintings, drifting in a sea of stories that carried me away to new places in my imagination. The more I read, the more she read to me, the wider my horizons were. It was limitless. I could be anyone, do anything! And there wasn't anyone to tell me I couldn't. 
And then I grew up. I had to find a way to keep myself motivated, discover who I am, sing louder, make a joyful noise. 
Enter horses. 
This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. Rumi

When you are young you think getting older will change things, give you more freedom and power, solve all of the problems you deal with as you discover yourself. It almost has to get easier with age and wisdom as your shield. When you are on the other side of your life, the irrefutable place in the orchestration where time and age have had their way, you miss the clarity, the bravery of youth. But horses are always in that perfect state of Zen ; balanced between the past and the future, always in the NOW

They lead me with a perfect sense of humor and inner knowledge of their place in the melody. They sing their part of the song, setting my key to balance my part in the choir. 

Their poetry, sense of timing, rhythm and pace, elegance and power sets my course and allows me to make discoveries about who I am in my own place of BEing. They settle me, remind me of the path I am on.

How long is irrelevant. How well I use the notes is everything. I am making a loud and joyful noise, singing as loud as I can. I AM. Anything is possible.

Monday, April 4, 2016

NO SONGS THIS YEAR, Just waiting...

My beautiful, peaceful place has been disturbed. We live on a preserve. Over the past year it has changed hands and is no longer owned by the surrounding neighbors. It's now owned by several environmental entities and controlled? directed? run? by the local state university. 

The frogs are quiet this spring, for the first time in the fifteen years we've been here. I'm used to a chorus that starts in March and continues well in to September. It's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of frog song with deep base to the highest soprano treble. 

And over that are the birds. We have species of birds here that are just not seen anymore in this part of the country. They begin their music before the frogs, they call the frogs to the surface and wake them up and it builds and builds to these crescendos that take my breath away. It really is where music began, I think. 

Percussion comes from the flickers and woodpeckers beating out hollow rhythms on the barrels of old trees and even the top of our crooked little barn. I know it's spring before anyone else because I hear the knocking, like a marching band or sacred dance off in the woods. 

It's cold and quiet, so quiet you can hear your heart beating and ears ringing. And it starts off in the distance with a breeze clacking together the oak leaves from last year. There's a bitter, clean smell as the air moves that makes you settle in to your place anticipating, leaning just a little and turning your head to catch it. It's the first tiny movements in the Spring Concerto leading you in to the 'room' where Nature sings to you.

But this year it is almost completely quiet. There are a few hardy little wrens who warble, waiting for the rest of their orchestra. And an occasional cardinal or cowbird but most of them are quiet, shocked, waiting and hiding. Why? We have neighbors who moved in to the other little house here on the property. And they have no respect for the land, none. They ride their ATV's, motor cycles, big beeping trucks fifty steps to the dumpster. Why walk when you can make an irritating NOISE? They shoot their guns at targets, play rap music and country music at the same time. Machines belch and rattle, grind and boom while junk car parts pile up. 

Trash blows everywhere. Big parties late in to the night, speeding cars up and down the road all day and sometimes until nearly the next morning. 

I'm not sure they're bad people, just disconnected from Nature. I don't think it occurs to them that the chaos they live in bothers anyone around them. They take it with them, bring it here and will, I have no doubt, probably take it with them when they move on. 

But I don't think it's the people next door who are the real problem. It's the so called academics and environmental agencies who are at the root of it all. They operate under this lumbering, cumbersome bureaucratic rules laden system that is the actual cause of the disconnect. The people who belong to this university group contact me the day before to dictate when they are going to be here, completely oblivious to the natural cycles or that we might have plans and a life of our own. They come out and crash through the forest to "observe", taking groups of graduate students who act little kids with no one supervising them. I know they're here because the forest goes quiet, the animals and even the insects hide. 

They crash through stepping on delicate wildflowers, leaving trash and even a ladder they use as a way to cross the creek. A ladder?! Who does that? It's like this quiet place is a petting zoo and humans are the predators who stare through the windows, laughing at the depressed animals and their odd behaviors. 

We've cared for this land for fifteen years, hauling away the crap that emerges in the spring rains. We live quietly and leave no foot steps or imprints on the land. We think in terms of seven and seven and seven generations ahead. And we listen.

Does anyone take the time to listen, wait, watch and just be? When did we so completely withdraw from our natural selves and the beautiful land around us? I wish there were courses in school that taught students how to BE without agendas or hustle and noise, and the doing, doing, doing we seem to be so addicted to. I wish people understood the value of a quiet existence. 

I guess I'll wait and be quiet, like the frogs and birds. And when they leave, if I'm still here, I will clean up after them and remind myself that we are tiny blips on a vast scale. This will pass and when it does, the frogs and birds will sing again. The bones of the Earth will still be here and so will my connection, a gift I never take for granted.

I am, ever yours, Nancy, waiting, waiting, waiting...