Wednesday, August 27, 2008


After any deluge, the terrain in front of the barns is more like a tureen. It is the norm to have a clog or shoe or even a boot sucked right off your foot.

This can make driving up to the feed room to unload even more fun than usual. There are three concrete squares leading up to the feed room (so one back tire can stay out of the mud), but in the soft ground they shift wildly. It is not possible to stabilize them in the mud, I just hope they don't turn up on end & crush anyone (me, any animal, whomever).

I promised to share the missionaries&cannibals-style routine before & here it is:

I drive to the feed store & pay a lot of money for ~300lbs of feed. You would think this would be the hardest part, but it isn't.

I drive home & park in front of the closed emu yard gate.

I close the gate at the top of the driveway (which was open from when I left to go get feed).

I walk to the pasture, cutting through the backyard, opening & closing each gate as I go.

I feed the horses & goats as usual, but with some extras:
I lure Bert & Coco into one stall together (they always do this, but if I am lucky, Ashley goes in with them).
I shut Becca in her stall.
I feed Tiki in the open end stall.
I lure Black&Tan & Cinnamon-Girl, somewhere, anywhere, but usually Cinnamon-Girl goes into the feed room itself & refuses to come out. She knows whats coming.

I cut back through the back yard, opening & closing blah, blah, blah.

I open the emu gate to the front yard.

I wait for the emus to decide to leave (there are ways to lure them out, but they are their own headache. Sometimes I do it & sometimes I just wait).

I drive into the emu yard & close the gate behind me. Now the emus are in the front yard, shut out of their yard.

I open the emu gate to the pasture, drive through & close this same emu gate behind the truck.

I back the truck up to the feed room & this is where the mud comes in. If the ground is muddy, I back up carefully. I have been stuck out here before. The giant stepping stones often shift under the weight of the truck & sometimes there is the littlest bit of shimmy, but so far I have not backed into this particular barn.

I get out of the truck & open the feed room.

Remember the two goats in there? Well they come out. & jump into the bed of the truck. Or knock me down while I am carrying the feed bags. Or stick their heads into the barrel so the feed pours over them. They do all of this in rotation until all the feed is unloaded.

In the meantime Tiki has certainly finished eating. While not nearly so bad (or bold) as the goats or even the other horses, she is curious. & excitable. Remember the mud? Horses that run on mud behave much like the driver who does not know how to hydroplane. Also, 1200lbs can get quite a bit of momentum if she should say, kick her back legs up in the air & go sliding on just the front two.

Now, the variables: if it has rained, the doors may not latch shut. I can throw all my body weight against them, but if they are not fully latched, Bert will have worked his & Coco's (& Ashley's, if she went in with them) door open & is now accompanying the goats (now joined by Ashley). Coco's bullying Tiki, who is now pacing wildly at the edge of all this, making it hard to drive the goats away, as they have more sense then to try & run by an angry Paso who thinks they got her share (sidebar: I love the way Pasos are described as "lively". For anyone who is confused about the term, it means "psycho").

OKay, lets say the unloading is complete, all the feed is in the barrels, & the barrels are sealed (another challenge when Cinnamon-Girl jams her head in to scarf down as much as she can).

Now I need to get the truck back out. Everyone gets fed again. That's right, I reward them for their bad behavior. First Coco & Bert & hopefully Ashley go back in. Another handful of food puts Tiki in the open end stall. For the sake of peace, I give Becca another scoop, but she is usually the only one still where she ought to be. Then I broadcast some so Cinnamon-Girl & Black&Tan are kept busy while I open the pasture gate drive into the emu pen & close the pasture gate.

Then I pull out of the emu pen & go back (through the backyard, to the pasture) & let everyone out. Then I go collapse; the emus will put themselves back whenever & I will close that gate when I notice.

So next time someone asks "what are you doing today" & I say "I have to get feed this morning" do not assume that means I am free for lunch. Chances are pretty good I will need to go back to bed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Emus are easily excited

After several days of hard rain, the emus were very happy to leave their yard & wander the front yard. There is a gate across the driveway & natural barriers along the perimeter, although Cleo has gotten through it more than once.

They tend to stick together & on all but one occasions, when Cleo has gotten out he has stood on one side of the gate in the driveway & she stood on the other. Anxious, but not panicked.

The exception was the last time he got out. Instead of waiting at our gate, he somehow got turned around & was waiting at the gate next door. I had to lure him from that gate to our gate with a scoop full of apples. It took time, not because he does not like apples (they both do) & he definitely understood the follow-the-food technique.

But every time he moved away from the narrow window to the next gate & alongside the underbrush that keeps them from running into the street (ideally), Antonelle thrummed until he would turn back & she could see him again. In the end I had to lure her to our gate & get her to stand there & panic. Then he went straight for her, eating every apple he could find on the way. I opened the gate & she made no attempt to rush out; he walked in & he made purring noises while she groomed her tail-feathers.

When a female emu is alarmed (at least when Antonelle is) she makes a noise that sounds like the opening riff of "These boots were made for walking" I swear. The male sounds like the Velocoraptors in Jurassic Park (the clicking, not the barking).

& they are largely peaceful. They do get frightened & respond in the only way a 100lb bird with a brain the size of bottle of nail polish can: they panic, they try to get away, they panic more. They do snap & fluff at the dog that runs the outside fence of their yard, barking (we don't let her do this, but sometimes she gets away), but mostly they want to be left alone, with each other.

As far as I can see that is their defining characteristic. They are devoted to each other. We have never seen them fight. Not when food was scarce, not when she layed all those eggs & he just would not sit on them (deadbeat!). In the end, she sat on them half-heartedly & he sat next to her.

Cleo does not see well, as I have said in a previous entry, & often snaps her, or food out of her mouth in his attempt to grab something several inches away. We have never seen her snap back.

Emus are especially enamored.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Still waiting on Fay

As I type this, the rain has become more frequent & the rain bands more dense. I made a quick while-I-still-can trip to the feed store to top off the barrels. In the three mile drive I passed through clear, rainy, & so pounding rainy that I could not hear the radio. I was listening to "Less Than Jake". That's loud pounding.

On the way home, I crossed paths with a peculiar local-driver variant I have only ever found well South of the Mason-Dixon: the nonhydoplaner. They can hydroplane (they often do) but each time it is a complete mystery how it happens. For those of you have kept cats off the counter with a water pistol, you know the look.

My first experience of this driver was Houston. Water more than an inch up the tire & every clown on the loop driving the standard 75. It is easy to skid off the interstate & onto local roads in good weather (many do it on purpose, avoiding those pesky exit-ramp traffic-lights). I would sit in my office, looking out over the SW Freeway/610 exchange, watching the melee.

I have driven in some of the stoopidest traffic in this country. My first commute was through the infamous G.Fox & Company snarl on 91 in Hartford. I spent one memorable May living in Greenwich, CT while working in Morristown, NJ. Whenever I was on a job in Culver City, I would drive to visit friends in Laguna Beach. I am familiar with the driver-drone who really, truly does not know where he is. But I had never seen anything like the nonhydroplaner.

The hallmarks are a large, heavy vehicle (they seem to favor Ford 150s, but an Escalade will do), prone to fishtailing. The more water on the road, the faster they go through it. The ONLY time a nonhydroplaner hits the brakes is when they are actually surfing. Once the tires make contact with pavement, they hit the gas again, often climbing a guard rail or, if they have not stopped talking on the phone, the vehicle in front of them (which may be driven by another nonhydroplaner). The pile-ups I used to watch were truly spectacular.

Now I rarely drive in the city; most of my driving is actually on dirt roads (which here in FLA are sand roads). And it is here that I have observed that niche species, the red-neck nonhydroplaner. This good ole boy usually drives heavy truck-the kind that requires a Class D license, but he usually does not have one. There is often an empty gooseneck trailer for extra torque.

I could tell, driving home from the feed store there was one in the area. The sudden stops on the saturated sand make deep ruts in the road & once you hit one, you will go well out of your way to avoid another. There are not actual lanes on our street, you just try to give anyone coming from the other direction the room he needs. Still, the car in front of me was veering so wildly around the road that it could only mean one thing.

Sure enough, we caught up with him. On a sandy road, in a blinding downpour, he had tried to turn his truck & trailer on to another country road & hung himself up on the gatepost. When I crept past at 15 miles an hour, I could see him, talking on his cell phone & waving his arms around to keep the liberated cows from scattering too far.

Fortunately, there is a tropical storm hanging over us & schools are closed, so one of the boys from the farm will be down to fix that fence soon enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting ready for Fay

It was not until '04 that we endured our first FLA hurricane, but we had seen several wildfire seasons. The weekend we found this house, made the offer & had it accepted, fire burned stands of pine less than five miles from here.

Because of A's commitment to his old job & because one of the women we purchased the house from was taking the BAR in early August, we did not actually move in for three months; three months of wildfires burning all around the county. My first house was going to burn to the ground before I ever lived in it. Have I mentioned I am afraid of fire?

It is a simple choice for me. I will take three weeks of on/off power (more off than on) & four hurricanes happily rather than endure half that time of smoky air & "is the house on fire or worse, the barn" nightmares.

In '07 the county north of us caught fire. Fire blazed & the county seat was evacuated. Less than 50 miles away, our air was so smoke laden, I swabbed the eyes & nostrils of the horses every morning, scraped the scum off the top of the large water troughs & even so, the morning fog, laden with ash, made them all wheeze so deeply, I could hear them before I could see them, standing less than 15' away. Ashley (named because she was born during a previous wildfire) developed a cough that never quite went away. She remains our "canary in the coalmine" goat & a good predictor of pending pressure changes, wind changes, high pollen & all other threats to clear breathing.

Fay has been downgraded & will downgrade again, although most weather maps show her pivot from north bound to west bound with us on the west edge of the circle. Yesterday, I tipped, scrubbed & refilled all the livestock waterers, checked the bottled water in storage & started filling every small container with water to make ice, while we still have power. After '04 I know the most valuable thing, the heaviest to bring in, the most indispensable in a rainy wet storm is water. & after the storm has passed through, water will be harder to find than it would be during a wildfire.

& if we don't lose power & need all that ice, next week we can have mojitos.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Banana blossom

For the first few years we lived here, the banana tree had no fruit. Finally, the tree matured or A's standards lowered sufficiently that the branches that hung out over the walkway too far (quite far, I admit) were not cut back.

Last year, we had the most blossoms of any year & for the first time no hurricane came through, blowing the top-heavy stalks to the ground. At least, they did not fall until after the fruit was almost ripe & then it was because the stalks themselves could not hold the weight.

I had heard that large-scale produce growers primarily cultivated fruits that could survive the shipping process. I thought I knew what this meant; I have grown tomatoes & I know what happens when they rub together, even in the basket from the garden to the kitchen. But I was not prepared for these bananas.

As they ripened, the fruit fell out of the skin. Short, but just as thick as conventional grocery-store bananas, these are sweeter & have more flavor, & what flavor! The week they all ripened, all four blossoms together, ruined more-available bananas for me for months. There were so many, all at once & if we did not collect them, the bugs ate them & if we did not eat them, they rotted in a matter of hours.

Fortunately, I know the secret of truly remarkable banana bread. It seemed as though there was a loaf baking in every pan we own. A has always been a fan of my banana bread; the secret is lemon oil mixed with real butter. OKay, not so secret, but try it. I do not know if it is the oil or what, but somehow it just does not freeze well (it does make great french toast, though). Even A cannot eat two loaves of banana bread a day.

This same week, A's parents returned from where-I-cannot-remember, both of them sick with a lingering cold. His father in particular was pitiful. I have watched this man eat everything, everything anyone ever put in front of him. One of the first meals I ever served them, he cleaned his plate complaining that I had burned the meat (I had, it was horrible) & then went for seconds (there was plenty, I really made a mess of it) & complained & ate until everything was gone.

But this cold had knocked out his appetite. He did not want to eat anything. He was like an old dog refusing to eat what he could not smell. Except, we discovered, fresh-as-fresh-can-be bananas. & when they were gone, a loaf & 1/2 of banana bread made with real butter & lemon oil.

Now, we have a blossom again. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago, but in the past few days it has really started to grow. Almost daily a petal peels away & the small, white, slug-looking bananas push off their outer layer & a new ring of green banana bunches forms. All the while, the flower hangs lower & lower, & another petal curls back.

It is like watching time-lapsed sex.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chickens in the yard, en garde!

Last week I was leaning into the old rabbit hutch that serves as a nesting box for my hens; a very large nesting box & yet they all insist on laying their eggs on each others heads in one corner. They roll all of their eggs together & sit on them in shifts, for the first hour or so & then they forget & wander off.

Sometimes they create nests in the barn or under the coral vine & one memorable day at the foot of a hayroll, unnoticed until the eggs started to explode from the heat, just as we (the farrier & me) had started to treat Captain, a horse with chronic abscesses, while he ate. Anyone who has done this job knows once that foot is up & you start cutting, there is no relocating & starting again. An egg blew every few minutes for the hour or so it took us to find the infection, drain it, soak the hoof & pack it.

There are usually ten or so eggs to collect on any given day. I am not tall. I have to open the lid & lean my neck & shoulders over the edge to reach the pile. On this particular day, the largest bird (a Cuckoo Maran named "Bombshell") happened to be on the rafter immediately over my head. I don't know how she got there, she is not aerodynamic & I would have said she could never get her bulk off the ground more than 2 feet or so.

I do know that she launched herself off the beam with a squawk & landed with all the grace of a bag of cement on the wooden lid, knocking my breathe out of me & leaving a bruise around my torso that looks like I have been lassoed. I have not, I swear.

Then she paced back & forth on the lid until I found my feet again & she slid to the ground & wandered away.

We used to have an old black lab named Amy-Dog. In the tradition of black labs the world over, she was obsessed with tennis balls. When she was too old & decrepit to chase them she would tuck them under her massive abdomen, keeping them safe from any other dog who might be interested. The lawn mower still finds caches hidden under the cedar trees, a year after Amy-Dog has died.

Aside from tennis balls, Amy-Dog had few other interests: her food, her food bowl, anyone else's food, anything that could be mistaken for food (including a bag of flour & a bag of cranberries that made her quite ill & me too, by the time she worked it all out).

The chickens liked to nap in the cedar tree over her head until, en masse, they would all jump to the ground, & frequently onto Amy-Dog. She took this very well. Her chin would bump the ground with each impact; there were usually several as chickens almost never act alone. She never showed any sign of wanting to get up & chase them after they had moved on, just on "oof" with each landing & sometimes a head shake when it was over.

One afternoon, though, I heard a terrible squawking & crashing. Sure enough, Amy-dog was going after the chickens. Or more accurately, their hidden nest. I ran outside, grabbed her collar, made her sit & looked. There, in the nest, with the variety of chicken eggs, was a tennis ball. Amy-dog ate every egg , very efficient, one gulp, shell & all, took her tennis ball & went back to her own nest.

//My apologies to Gertrude Stein.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The commercial game

Most evenings, we like to stare at the TV. It almost does not matter if there is anything interesting on. A can happily surf the channels for half-an-hour & most of the time something turns up by then. Or we lower our standards.

For many years, we have played 'Name that voice-over'. I read once, perhaps in a dentist's office or on a plane, that familiar voices have more credibility, even if we do not recognize the voice as familiar. In fact, once the source has been named, if that person is not an authority, the credibility is lost. Now that I think about it, it was probably Glamour magazine.

So commercials have become a kind of contest. & the game will pick up the slack when there is nothing on. You can always find a commercial.

Lately A has invented a new commercial game: deliberately misunderstanding the commercial message. Sometimes he catches me; recently I clarified what 'certified pre-owned' meant before I realized he was playing the game. I do not remember what he said he thought it meant. Yes, I had had wine-with-dinner, what makes you ask?

My favorite though is the Cialis commercial. The one where the daughter comes over for an unexpected visit. A thinks this means Cialis gives you whatever it takes to have sex with your wife & daughter.

So next time nothing is on, try it. If you come up with something completely off-the-wall I would suggest you write the company. Maybe you will get free samples (not of Cialis, necessarily. Or a certified pre-owned Honda). Or just to cheer up the poor slob who has to read all those form letters from the Moral Majority, or whatever euphemism is protesting this week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Saint Alphonsus Liguori

Today (according to the Saints Index on-line) is the day of Saint Alphonsus Liguori. The only thing I miss about the Catholic Church is the saints. They have a strange fairy-tale quality: Once upon a time there was a very old man who lived in a cave --let's face it, that's 1/3 of them, right there.

It's a shame my limited religious instruction didn't cover the saints in more detail; even when they were crazy they were interesting. I have begun to wonder why they did not come up more often during my Liberal Arts education, in world history or abnormal psych. Pretty much the only saints I have run across outside the church are Thomas Aquinas, that well documented philosopher, & Louis IX of France, who as far as I can tell was canonized for killing Jews. Oh, I forgot Constantine & his mother Helen. They are fun, too.

I like what I have read about Alphonsus Liguori so far. Apparently he worked for separation of church & state & thought kindness was more important than piety. I wonder that they canonized him at all. He is also the patron saint of moral theologians. I am doubly impressed. I did not think the church was that close to admiting there were immoral ones.

So today, in honor of the man Alphonsus Liguori I will make an effort to consider that every vastly corrupt institution probably has one or two members that are not quite so bad. I will do this while shoveling out the horse stalls in the rain.