I live outside of the Nashville area. When someone who lives in the city asks me where my farm is, I tell them to keep driving until they see people climbing the poles to answer their phones…I live about ten miles past that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the country. I can’t picture myself returning to reside in NYC, even with the lure of fantastic museums and theatre and great Italian bread from Brooklyn or REAL pizza.
All New Yorkers know that there is something in the water that makes the bread as good as it is. Italian bread connoisseurs can attest that an authentic loaf is crunchy and firm and the inside should be filled with hollow spots. And real pizza needs the proper amount of fresh mozzarella and just enough olive oil dripping out after you fold your slice in half to eat it.
Neither of these exists in this area…oh, I’ve heard rumors of sightings…but they turn out to be just that…rumors…and wishful thinking.
There is no pizza or Chinese food delivery here either, and my kids had a hard time adjusting to that at first. Back in NYC, the guys at the pizza parlor knew my voice when I called in to place a order for delivery.
Any time visitors make plans to come and spend time on our farm, there is a standing request to bring bagels and bread from Brooklyn. One time I had a pizza FedExed to us from our favorite place on Staten Island…but it wasn’t the same.
Cultural and epicurean differences aside, I consider myself lucky every day to be able to walk out of my door and look at nothing but trees and hills and creeks…and my horses grazing in the pasture below me….
Until the day before yesterday, when all ten of them decided to go on a walkabout and ended up at a neighboring farm about a mile from my house…as the crow flies.
Early Tuesday evening, as I was headed toward Franklin, almost sixty miles away, I got a call from my neighbor. We’ve had a lot of storms and a tree was down on their electric fence. My little darlings simply tiptoed over it and were enjoying a snack in the neighbor’s hay field, even though two giant fresh rolls of hay were sitting in their own pasture.
She had managed to shoo them into another one of my pastures and she shut the gate. I was going to have to move them until the fence was fixed, but I decided to wait until the morning to go and get them. It gets really dark here at night, especially in the woods, and wrangling a bunch of horses on foot in the dark isn’t a smart thing to do.
I never knew what “pitch black” meant until I moved out here. There are no tall buildings or a lot of street lights and our nearest neighbors are all almost a mile away. Eventually we got used to how dark it gets and we can find our way around this farm in pitch blackness. If you know where you are, walking around at night in the dark is amazingly peaceful…just not when you’re leading a herd of horses.
I got up at the crack of dawn and set out to find my little band. My only mare, Smoker, was waiting by the gate for me with a disgusted look on her face. The nine boys were nowhere to be found. She turned and looked over her shoulder toward a really steep hill.
There they were, standing at the top of it, staring down at me. They must have climbed like commandoes to get there, it was almost a cliff face. Just great.
I am the alpha female to this herd. They follow me because I feed them. It is as simple as that. I was going to have to climb up there to get them to follow me down.
Smoker walked over and stood next to me. She whinnied to them and there was a lot of sarcasm in it. Ordinarily, horses have the sense of a three year old child. She is one of the rare exceptions. She has always separated herself from the herd when they have behaved badly. She is a tattle tale…when I see her standing by the fence and none of the rest of them are around, then I know something is up.
She was a reining horse before I bought her, a Poco Lena mare, which in the quarter horse world, is royalty. When she first arrived she had a nasty attitude and her ears were always pinned back. The previous owners had ridden her with a gag bit because she was difficult to handle. I have used rubber snaffle bits ever since I got my thoroughbred from the track and learned the hard way how NOT to hang on a horse’s mouth.
The first time I used a rubber bit on Smoker, she stood chewing on it for a minute, and then pushed her ears forward and smoothly trotted out. I threw away the gag bit and we’ve never looked back. She has had three foals in her years here on my farm, and I was privileged to be in the stall with her when two of them were born. I missed the third one by a few minutes…I ran to get my kids at school and when I came back, there was a little colt standing at the fence. Smoker taught her babies early on that I was the boss, and when I had to handle them she would push them up against the stall wall so I could get a hold of them.
One time I walked up to her and thinking it was her baby, she turned to nip him and got me instead. She had a look of pure horror on her face when she saw it was me she had bitten instead of her colt. She put her nose on my shoulder and snorted her apology in my ear.
Ordinarily, when I’m gathering up the herd, she’ll walk right next to me, second in command.
Yesterday morning she followed me over to the bottom of the hill, looked up at the rest of them…and turned and headed back to the gate, looking over her shoulder to let me know I was on my own.
Everything is blooming now, and I pulled myself up the hill with some kind of vine that looked suspiciously poisonous. I guess I’ll find out in a day or two.
When I finally got to the top, they were lined up along the ridge turning their heads away from me like I was invisible. I started back down the hill, clicking to them. They wouldn’t follow me.
I climbed up again and they started to move away from me back toward the other farm. I hadn’t thought to bring some grain with me as an incentive, but like a hillbilly McGuyver, I filled my pocket with stones and shook my jacket.
I can tell you straight up that this would NOT have worked with Smoker. But it worked with the boys, and they started down the hill behind me. The plan was not fool proof…they all wanted to be the first one to get to me…so I had to use trees as a barrier between me and the thirty six legs and nine thousand pounds scrambling in back of me straight down the cliff side.
We made it to the bottom and they followed me through the gate to the main pasture. The rest would have gone like clockwork if we hadn’t run into the first snake of the season near the creek. He was laying stretched across the path and looking a little lumpy, like he had just eaten.
The horses came to a dead stop. He wasn’t moving and neither were they. I went to look for the longest stick I could find. I don’t mess around with the snakes here. Some of them are poisonous and I air on the side of caution and don’t bother introducing myself unless it’s unavoidably necessary.
I kept poking at it with the stick and it only moved enough for me to know it wasn’t dead. I was considering how fast I could flip it out of the way and run, when Smoker solved the problem for me. She impatiently marched up to the snake and stepped over it…and it wasn’t in a dainty way. The snake got the message and slithered out of sight. The rest of the horses followed her and I left them eating their own hay in my lower pasture.
This morning when I drove out they were down near my front gate…along with my two pigs, five deer and about twenty turkeys…all grazing side by side like a Dark Side Noah’s Ark.
Smoker was laying down and I waited until I was sure she was just resting. She’s an old lady now and I wonder how many more springs I’ll see her down in the pasture standing with her ears pinned back, waiting for one of the boys to do something stupid and give her an excuse to tattle.
It’s night again…dark and rainy. The creek will be up in the morning and I wonder if I’ll be able to drive over it.
The rain is drumming steadily on the metal roof of my porch. There is no wind, so there is not a lot of bite to this storm. It is springtime in the south and it is about to be the prettiest time of the year here.
Yeah…I miss good bread and pizza…but right now I’m listening to the rain and thinking about how lucky I am….
Day two hundred and eighty eight…some of the best times are the ones that you just happen to find yourself in…