Monday, March 30, 2009


Tonight was one of those nights when I wanted to go out to the barn and do the evening chores about as much as I would want a hole in the head... which is to say, not very much at all.
After a full day with an early start, making and serving and cleaning up after supper, and with a winter storm bearing down, the last thing I really wanted to do was pull on my bibs and boots, hat and gloves, and trudge through the snow for yet more work.
But a transformation takes place during the few steps I take from the house to the barn. Hungry calves bawl and push each other around in an attempt to be the first to greet me. The horses whinny and the cows moo and everyone is happy to see me. Its controlled chaos and a chorus of hungry mouths to feed.
I start with the bucket calves, who would put any champion beer-guzzler to shame as they bury their noses in their warm milk, guzzling it down... its a wonder they don't drown. The bottle calves are next; they stand side-by-side, their little tails swishing in unison, big brown eyes half-closed as they savor the joy of feeding time.
Next, all the cattle get their grain, and they settle into Nirvana. At that point I never fail to remember when I was a little girl, watching my dad feed his cows and him telling me that to cows, corn tasted like chocolate pudding. That was in the days before "Snack Packs", and homemade chocolate pudding was about as wonderful a treat as we could imagine!
I bring the horses into the barn, one by one, taking the time to correct them if they attempt to get pushy. With my children around and handling them at times, I have little tolerance for a horse that thinks it can walk all over you. In the past, I would often let the horses into the barn as a group and sort them into their individual stalls, but have found the few moments it takes to catch and lead them in, individually, is worth the extra time. They benefit so much from that extra handling.
A few more moments of chaos ensues, while the horses wait impatiently for their rations. The Pintabians, true to their quiet nature, just nicker and look at me expectantly, while my daughters rangy Paint is more demanding, pawing the floor and shaking her head. Peace descends as I move down the row of stalls, doling out the grain... and I never fail to appreciate the quiet as they all happily dive into their grain.
Now, time for the heavier work, carrying water and hay to each animal... but somehow, it is not as daunting a task as I imagined before heading outdoors. By now I'm warmed up, into the job, and take pleasure in it. I sort through the hay to find the most soft and tender stems for the baby calves, who are just learning to eat it, and make sure the rest is free of dust and mold.
Soon, I realize all the necessary work is done, and yet I am dawdling, enjoying this time in my sanctuary. It is peaceful here, and I feel a great fulfillment and sense of accomplishment in a job well-done.
Here, too, I find hope... in the swelling bellies of the mamas, heavy with calf or foal... in the projects that need to be tackled when the weather warms up... in the saddles lining the tack room wall, in the anticipation of trail rides and shows to come. This is the time when I see the unborn babies kick, making their presence known; the time when I scratch the cows and play with the calves and tell the horses how breathtakingly beautiful they are, even wearing their winter grubbies (as if they didn't know!).
Yes, I am tired, and sore, and my soft warm bed will feel absolutely divine when I finally settle into its embrace. But that can wait just a few more minutes... I'm in my sanctuary.

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