Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Summer Solstice.

Posted on | June 27, 2011 | 4 Comments

You won’t look back and laugh at everything.  Which is why you haven’t heard about how we lost Applejacks and Ray-Ray last summer.  There wasn’t anything funny about how we found Applejacks lying still in the woods.  Or how we held Ray-Ray through the night and hoped that at least he would survive the colic that had struck them both down.  Even I could not squeeze out a drop of humor or sarcastic quip about that summer solstice morning when we woke to face the longest day of the year and the rest of our lives without our miniature horse, Applejacks, and our blind sheep, Ray-Ray.

So I didn’t write about it.  I just held my kids close and let their tears soak into my shirt.  And when all that was left of our sobs was sniffles and hiccups, we finally sat up.  We did the milking.  We gathered the eggs.  We harvested the onions whose tops had fallen over.  Because if the farm sometimes grinds you under its heel, it also always gives you plenty of reasons to get up and get on with it.   So we got on without Applejacks’ velvety muzzle checking our palms for treats or Ray-Ray nuzzling the back of our knees and as he followed us trustingly around the barnyard.  Such is life.

But I admit that my heart stumbled when I got the call over Christmas.  A Shetland pony was in need of rescue in a neighboring town.  Her owner had to leave the state suddenly and wouldn’t be coming back.  Was I interested in coming to take a look at her?  Well, was I ready to hear an ear-splitting whinny whenever the deck door opened or a car pulled in the driveway?  Did I want another big, broad face breathing heavy in my ear whenever I was tightening the barn door hinges or wiping out the water trough?  Was I willing to worry about colic when grain was spilled or founder when the grass was lush?  Could I stand to see my children devastated or risk feeling helpless and heartbroken again?

Please.  What is a farm unless you can wake up, peer out the window at your barns and fields and be filled with courage, hope, and the conviction that this time everything will go exactly as planned?  Just a strip of land, that’s what.

So we went to a barn and met Candy Corn for the first time.  We scratched our heads and rubbed our chins and pretended to thoughtfully consider taking her home.  As if we would have ever left without her.   Unless she was kicking holes through stall doors and tearing off people’s flesh with her teeth.  In which case, we would have taken her home very carefully.

This year the summer solstice arrived with the same heat and humidity as last year.  The sun was scorching, the air buzzing with insects, the mud around the pond dried and caked.  But this time a whinny greeted us as we headed out with the milk pail.  Candy Corn stood faithfully by the gate awaiting her grain and her morning chin scratch.  And one could believe that this farm had never been without a swishing tail or impatient hoof stamp.  Now everyone will tell you that one animal cannot replace another.  Although if you rush out while your kids are still sleeping you might get another goldfish that’s similar enough to fool anyone under age 5–and next time don’t forget to put the dechlorinator in the water when you clean the tank!  Plus there was that time when we were in charge of the classroom hamster over school break and…well, never mind.  The point is what critter cannot heal with his soft furry coat or her gentle dewy eyes?  The presence of a sweet and trusting soul or mischievous trickster has the ability to sweep the sadness out of our hearts and leave us with just the joyous memory of those that have come before.

This year we filled the longest day of the year, not with weeping, but with the humorous stories of our time with Applejacks and Ray-Ray.  We remembered the way Applejacks liked to lift the hoof exactly opposite the one you were asking for just for fun.   And how Ray-Ray suckled knees, elbows, and noses in his blind pursuit for the bottle when he was a lamb.  We chuckled.  We laughed.  We filled our day with the long hours of light and let those brief painful hours of darkness just slip away.  And all the while we stroked Candy Corn’s velvety muzzle as she checked our hands for treats.  We relaxed on the picnic table as she rubbed her smooth flanks against our backs.  We ran our fingers through tangles in her mane and thought we heard the contented sighs of Applejacks and Ray-Ray when a wisp of summer breeze stirred the trees.

Maybe you can always look back and laugh.

Welcome, summer.  We miss you, Applejacks and Ray-Ray.  We love you, Candy Corn.


4 Responses to “The Summer Solstice.”

  1. KiM
    June 28th, 2011 @ 5:03 am

    You do such a wonderful job of expressing exactly how it is for us “farm families”. We mourn those animals who have gone on and remember them with laughter and tears while we enjoy to the fullest, the ones that took their place in the stall or kennel. I’m so glad you are back. I’ve missed you! Keep up the good work.

  2. Tanya
    June 28th, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    Makes me want to smile and cry at the same time. Love it!

  3. Annabelle
    June 28th, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

    once again, right on! thanks for a good cry… I lost my best dairy doe a few weeks ago to bloat. It never gets easier but there is still work to be done.

  4. Lisa Treat
    June 28th, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

    What a touching story of the realities we deal with. Beautifully written… just beautiful. With tears rolling down, I can so relate to your little family dealing with the tragedy in a healthy and loving way. Good for you…
    (I also have missed you!) Lisa

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