Riding with a Rat

They come with the territory. Anytime there’s feed for horses or cattle or even dogs, they’re going to arrive to see what they can salvage from the smorgasbord. You may have the cleanest barn in the neighborhood, which we do, thanks to my OCD husband who blows out the barn aisle at every opportunity.

For the first time last evening, we saw a little unwanted guest. I, of course, am using that particular adjective loosely. Anything larger than a chipmunk should be charged rent. I heard my husband yelling, “Did you see him? Did you see him? You almost stepped on him!” That was a tidbit that I didn’t need to hear.

It turns out the interloper ran from the front of the barn all the way to the other end and disappeared. The little bugger. I never got an eyeball on him.

“Was it a mouse or a rat?” I’m not sure why that really makes any difference but it does. We horse people are a weird lot. Mice….hmm. They’re cute. Rats! It’s like the elephant in the closet.

“It was about this big.” He held his hands apart about 6″…. yep that’s a rat.

“Well he’s gone now and honestly, all the food is in a metal container. I wouldn’t worry.”

We headed up to the house without a second thought.

The next morning, my husband decided to mow the front lawn before noon. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of a mower. It brings back childhood memories; the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distance hum of the mower and the memory of my father whipping around on his riding mower with his favorite farmer’s cap perched on his head. My husband is the same. He loves his zero turn, taking great pride in making sure the lines are even and level. Wanting to complete the lawn before the sun got too hot, he was in a particular jaunty mood, turning corners on a dime, zipping right along. Not only was my husband enjoying the ride, so was the rat.

Of course, the stowaway wasn’t discovered until my husband stopped to blow off the debris that collects in the filter. While he’s at it, he blows everything off. That’s when he discovered “Harold” literally flying off the mower when he got caught in the crosshairs. Then the real fun began.

In an effort to hide from both from my husband’s blower and further airborne torment, “Harold” darted into, of all things, our garage which was only open for the guy working on our base boards. In hot pursuit, my husband followed, cornered him and revved up his blower again. Once more, “Harold” was sent airborne, flying in a perfect five foot arch before landing outside the garage. His little legs working overtime, he scrambled toward the screened portch in the back of the house, my husband unsuccessfully trying to send him airborne into our neighbor’s pasture.

I heard a frantic thumping on the door.

“Get Charlie! CHARLIE! Come here Charlie! Rat! Get ’em boy!”

Charlie is our jackshitz…part Jack Russell, part Shitzu. Now you would think any dog with Jack Russell blood would take off like a lawn dart after such a prize catch but after leaping out the door in excitement, all Charlie could do was look up at my husband as if to say, “Yea, so? What am I supposed to do about him?”

“Harold”- unable to climb up the screen eventually took off toward the back yard and tried to disappear into the brush, with my husband, blower revved up to the highest rpm level, right on his tail, no pun intended. I would like to be able to say there is photographic documentation of this. An airborne rat is not something you see everyday. Unfortunately, as with most delightful escapades, it’s a visual one can only imagine.

Ah, life on a farm. It’s never boring.

Shadow

He showed up one afternoon and settled down to watch us from a safe distance. We had recently purchased this farm and had begun the cleanup process…an endeavor not for the faint of heart. In order to entice boarders to our facility, we had to erase years of neglect starting with permanent residents who made it quite clear they resented having their solid webs being vacuumed out of existence.

“Where did he come from?” my husband enquired.

“Who?” I answered, not taking my eyes off a particularly defensive wolf spider.

“That dog over there.”

As if aware he was the subject of discussion, the dog lifted his head, thumping his tail once.

Being a sucker for stray animals, I stepped down off the ladder and slowly walked over to him. Curious but not certain of my intentions, he quickly stood up and walked a few steps away.

“Man, boy, do you smell!” I exclaimed. It was obvious that although he had remained in the area, he belonged to no one in particular. He wagged his tail some more. Yes, I do . I’m really happy you noticed and you’re still petting me!”

As time went on, we gleaned a little more information about him from our neighbors. General consensus said he’d turned up almost four or five years ago, most likely dumped. A “hitch in his get along” indicated he’d been struck by a car. He’d survived all those years going from house to house, becoming a familiar fixture enough that he earned a minimum of at least three names we know of: King, Romeo and Buddy.  He answered to none of them, choosing instead to drift, friendly yet aloof.

Most definitely a chow mix, he captured my heart immediately. His warm eyes were hopeful but he remained aloof. I’m not ready to trust you but I think I’m willing to give you a chance.  I withdrew. He settled in again.

At the end of the day, as we walked up to the cottage, the dog followed at a safe distance. Later, when we piled into the truck to drive to the hardware store he ran after us for nearly half a mile, desperate to keep us in sight. It was heartbreaking.

That was the pattern for the next few days until finally, after bribing him with canned dog food and his own kibble bowl, he approached us. Yes, I think you are the ones I have been waiting for. I stroked his head as he looked up me with limpid brown eyes. His tail never stopped its slow,  metronome tempo.

“Man, boy, do you smell!” I exclaimed. It was obvious that although he had remained in the area, he belonged to no one in particular. He wagged his tail some more. Yes, I do . I’m really happy you noticed and you’re still petting me!”

As time went on, we gleaned a little more information about him from our neighbors. General consensus said he’d turned up almost four or five years ago, most likely dumped. A “hitch in his get along” indicated he’d been struck by a car. He’d survived all those years going from house to house, becoming a familiar fixture enough that he earned a minimum of at least three names we know of: King, Romeo and Buddy.  He answered to none of them, choosing instead to drift, friendly yet aloof and watchful, until we came along.

We named him Shadow, for obvious reasons for wherever we were, he wasn’t far away. He didn’t run, he ambled…slowly, deliberately. Once in awhile he would break into a slow trot but it never lasted too long. He was an old soul wrapped in a thick chestnut coat; a master of casual cool. The neighbors across the street owned four boxers who remained contained inside a chain link fence, a territory they guarded ferociously. On a regular basis, Shadow would cross the street, antagonizing those boxers. Deliberately, and I suspect with canine relish, he would meander next to their fence and nonchalantly pee as you please, oblivious to their frenzied barking.  He may have been neutered, but he still had balls.

There was an instinctive gentleness about him. On a farm dotted with mature oaks, squirrels are abundant. Surprisingly, baby squirrels drop out of trees on a regular basis. One afternoon, Shadow came ambling up from the barn carrying what we thought was an old shoe. What he dropped at my feet was a baby squirrel he’d gently carried up from the barn. Left alone, the squirrel wouldn’t have stood a chance. To this day, I don’t what compelled Shadow to carefully cradle the helpless animal in his mouth to drop it my feet but four weeks later, we released that same animal in a nearby tree.

Perhaps Shadow fell in love with our walking ottoman, Abby or reveled in the constant pestering from Charlie, our ADD Jack-Shitz.  People often remarked how lucky Shadow was to find our family. The truth is, we were the lucky ones. He’d experienced first hand the worst behavior humans are capable of yet retained the sweetness of a gentle soul. He deserved so much more than life had given him. It may have taken a few years to choose a permanent family but when he did, he remained loyal and protective to the very end.

The truth of the matter is this. One doesn’t find these creatures. These wonderful animals, whether they be feline, equine or canine, find you and our lives are so much richer because of it.

 

Three Little Wrens

Spring and early summer means birds nesting, hidden eggs in some hideaway, the loud chirping of mother birds and the eventual shallow squeaking of the babies when they respond. This is especially true in barns. I mean, what bird could possibly resist? Shafts of golden straw and hay, strands of long hair from horse rubbing their manes on fences all woven together with Spanish Moss from nearby Oak trees.

We were lucky to have two separate nests this summer…of course, when the mother flew up from seemingly nowhere, it caused our hearts to jump. Fortunately, she situated her second nest in a less conspicuous stall and we were able to monitor the babies from a safe distance.

One morning, while emptying the water buckets to refill while the horses were in the paddocks, we were alarmed to discover what I previously thought to be a “road apple” turned out to be drowned wren. Could it be the mother? We crept into the unoccupied stall to check out the now fledgling babies. Immediately three gaping mouths reached upward to receive food, obviously hungry.

Damn!

As animal lovers, we were worried without their mother they wouldn’t last much longer. Immediately, we googled “what to feed fledglings”. Isn’t Google wonderful? I never realized I’d done it wrong all those years ago. Under definite no-no list was bread and water. Surprisingly, soaked dog kibble (very soft) or crushed meal worms. I opted for the soaked kibble and a small syringe, all the while reminding myself their stomachs were half the size of a pea.

Frankly, we didn’t think they would last throughout the night but we tucked them in, made sure their nest remained intact and placed a small wool towel around the base.

The next morning we were greeted with three gaping mouths and high pitched squeaks. Hallelujah…we hadn’t killed them.

About two days later, we heard what was definitely a mature wren chirping quite loudly. Who knew suchIMG_3898 a small bird could emit a sound 10x its size? We continued to feed them but since we were now being scolded, we let the male bird take over…or what we thought was the dad.

Doing night check the following evening, we noticed the wee three amigos perched together on the stall door. We had watched the activity from the previous day. Obviously IMG_3901the parent had encouraged his entourage to spread their wings. It had only taken 24 hours for them to leave the comfort of the only home they had known up until then and begin their journey into the great beyond. Fortunately, we were able to photograph them before they disappeared entirely.

We are happy to report, the next morning they hopped from hay bale to hay bale before flying to the window and taking that final leap into the unknown. I’d like to think we played a small part in their success if only with a few meals.

 

Memories of Summer

In response to https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/summer/

 

Lazy afternoons,

Lying in the tall grass

watching billowing clouds

slowly floating past.

Grilled hot dogs, chips

and root beer floats.

Jumping in puddles

wearing yellow raincoats.

Running with sparklers

on the Fourth of July

capturing lightening bugs

right out of the sky.

searching for crawdads

 in the creek down the road.

The smell of green grass

that has been freshly mowed.

“Hide ‘n Seek”, “Red Rover”

“Ollie Ollie Oxen Free”

Games played with friends

when we were carefree.

Catching a snowflake

on the tip of your tongue,

climbing a tree

just because it’s so fun.

Tire swings that arc

over the swimming hole

and the best cannonball

was the ultimate goal.

Those nostalgic moments

that I can recall

Were idyllic moments

all in all.

 

 

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The True Definition of Perfection

In response to  DAILY PROMPT   https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/perfection/ 

They sat together as they had for years, tucked away in their booth, out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Close enough to watch the fascinating dance of waiters carrying well balanced food trays weaving between tables covered with white linen cloths.

Slowly, he reached across to grasp her hand in a loving gesture of perfect harmony. He felt the softness of her skin and rubbed his thumb over the familiar simple gold wedding ring. A perfect moment where the din of the banging cutlery and china faded into silence. It was their anniversary and here, they could have their own miniature celebration before joining friends later that evening.

For those sitting nearby, their display of perfect affection drew slow smiles of appreciation and yet those witnesses probably didn’t comprehend the thoughts behind the value of perfection.

Perfection to him didn’t mean flawless or a fashion magazine’s interpretation of ideal beauty. No. As he caressed her hand, he could feel the soft skin dotted with well earned age spots and permanent creases. Cerulean blue eyes met his gaze…ones that had seen much edged with radiating crow’s feet signifying decades of laughter and joy. Lines from the corners of her eyes showed where life’s tragic events created a path for tears. Together, they had survived life’s struggles, family tragedy and experienced the most joyous moments life has to offer. When he looked at her, he saw imperfect perfection. The silver hair, the glasses, the soft lines of living and the knowledge that together they had weathered the good and the bad. In sadness, they had discovered  strength. In happiness, they had experienced inner peace. In frustration, they had learned the importance of patience. Ultimately, their imperfect life was perfect.