It sounds like a highway related moment, but it also describes the animal related events of the past week or two, here on Harrington Hill.
Faithful readers will recall that certain mysteries were bedeviling me: "thin" places in the fencing system, disappearance of vital life-sustaining pellets, "diva" behavior on the part of one mare, that sort of thing. Those mysteries have not all been solved, but in a few, clarity has evolved.
Before I go on, I would like to say that this has been a generally clarifying experience, these two months of animal husbandry on the Harrington Hill spread. I am extremely glad to have been invited to act as caretaker during my friends' fishing stint up north because I've learned some things about myself and about caring for animals---particularly other people's animals. And it has had similarities to my experience in ministry.
Going from full-speed-ahead ministry (even though it was ostensibly half-time) to no-speed-at-all retirement would not have been easy. Going from ministry at top speed to horse and dog wrangler atop a hill overlooking Saratoga Passage and Mt. Baker was like going from 60 to 30 overnight. Animal care has shaped my days: up at 5 (no, that hasn't changed even though I don't have my cats with me), catch up on the email, feed the dogs, check on the horses, have breakfast, more horse care, 6-8 walks with the dogs during the course of the day, slotting my own activities in and around my duties to the animals. This has all been fine, easy, and leisurely, at least for the first four weeks.
I should have known, when "diva mare" and her BFF mysteriously moved from pasture to pasture without human intervention, that more was in the works. That the diva had discovered something interesting: the electric fence was no longer working. And since the entire property is electrically-protected, this was going to be a problem. I didn't know this yet, but I was about to learn.
A week ago, I moved the horses from pasture 3 to pasture 4. The grass is getting a little sparse because it's the dry season, but pasture 4 is expansive and it looked like it would be fine. The plan was that I would continue to move them back and forth from the paddock where they are fed and spend the night into pasture 4 every morning. But early last week I went out to move them and discovered that they had kicked out a section of fence in the paddock, making it unusable. Phone call to Alaska ensues.
Plan B: keep them in pasture 4 continually and feed them hay and pellets there at night. Okay. At least until I caught one of the geldings (presumably at the command of Diva Mare) working on the slats of an old wooden gate and splintering and dislodging one of its boards.
Plan C: I find an old unused metal gate not far away and, using duct tape, bungee cords, and hayrope, affix it to the wooden gate so they can't do any more damage OR break out into the yard. Later that day, I discover that another old wooden gate has been damaged enough that all five of the horses have managed to get into a piece of pastureland that is not well-fenced. My suspicions are confirmed: the electric fence is disabled for some reason and is not guarding the perimeters.
Plan D: I find a second old unused metal gate on the property and, using 200 feet of rope, just in case, lash it into the gap where the old wooden gate used to be. I lure all five horses back into pasture 4 and make another emergency phone call to Alaska, from whence relief is summoned in the form of a local horse family. The Kellers come to the ranch, re-electrify the fence, check on the perimeter, and save my bacon.
Since then, all has been quiet on the HH front. The horses are getting a great deal of attention from me; it's hay in the morning, hay in the noonday sun, hay in the evening, a dose of pellets midmorning, and carrots or apples whenever I think of it. I want these horses to stay happy! Because if they're happy, I can sleep at night.
Plan F: if necessary, there are two small paddocks which are tightly fenced with both metal and heavy wood slats where the five can be imprisoned temporarily. I don't think we will have to do this to them, but at least it's an option.
Saving grace: Paula, one of the owners, will be home on Wednesday night. The hardest part of all of this has been doing it alone, as the neighbors who were willing and able to help have just not been available when I needed them. One of the hazards of working with volunteers!
But here's what has been so valuable about the whole experience: I've discovered coping qualities in myself that I've never had to use before. Fixing fences and gates with baling twine, ropes, and bungee cords? Nope. Comforting a dog who has just had a seizure? Nope. Protecting a scapegoat mare from a diva mare? Nope. Understanding that fences have to be secure or animals are not safe? Not for a long, long time. Having full responsibility for eight beautiful, valuable, beloved animals who belong to somebody else and who have needs that I don't fully "get"? Nope, not that either. Being willing to do it anyway and learn what I need to know "on the hoof", as it were? Yep, that one I've always had and that's the one that has bailed me out in this situation: my commitment to doing what needs to be done, to the best of my ability.
It's been a little bit like my early days in ministry, when I was learning things they couldn't teach in seminary: how to coax powerful personalities into cooperation when they weren't sure they wanted to cooperate with me; offering sustenance to a wide variety of needs without giving up my own needs completely; doing the best I could with the resources I had and not kicking myself if I goofed up; finding the lesson in the crisis rather than just the anger and worry.
I've loved this experience. I'm so glad to have had it, even with the crises. And, as I told Paula recently in one of our advice-filled phone conversations, now, if I ever want to revamp my resume, I can put "horse and dog wrangler" down as a job skill.