I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year. Drive safely, keep warm and, above all, keep optimistic!!
I am about to bring down my little Christmas tree. I bought it some years ago – a miniature little thing, about 2 ft. high, which I stand on my coffee table, already decorated and ready to be plugged in. Very handy – after Christmas I just pick it up by its top knot and carry it upstairs into storage for another year. Sure beats all that running around getting a tree, installing it, decorating it – all those years at Grapevine with life size Christmas trees have made me feel I had my fill of all that fun. I do remember some memorable years though – about 25 years ago I had the idea of decorating the tree with threads threaded through popcorn – it looked lovely, all white and festive – and not expensive, which was important in those early days. It was also a time when the dogs still had the run of the public buildings, and so one fine day they discovered the edible goodies on the tree ….. and they were no more. Oops! That may have been the time dogs were banned from the buildings.
But for several years before that, not only did my little dachshund Pistol have the run of the place, but so did my pet lamb, the first Lambchop. At the time the only heating in the dining room – that was even before the Longhorn Room had been added on, so the only room served as both dining and sitting rooms – was from the pot belly stove, and Pistol had a dog basket stashed behind it, where he enjoyed snoozing. As the outdoor dogs weren’t allowed in there, he was the only four legged occupant, until the day when Lambchop fell into the swimming pool – not fenced off at that time. Luckily he fell in on the side opposite the step out, so he was able to swim across and clamber out, and my first sight of him was that of a bleating, dripping wet furry object trundling up the path towards the Cook Shack. As it was a cold winter’s day, I brought him in and installed him behind the stove to dry. Of course, it wasn’t long before he found Pistol’s basket, and arranged himself in it, steaming dry in the pleasant heat. The look on Pistol’s face when he came in, and found his bed occupied by a wet sheep, was priceless – but no less funny than the studiously nonchalant look on Lambchop’s face – “I can’t see you, I can’t see you, I am not moving…..” it said, as plain as day. To avoid domestic wars, I had to install two dog baskets in there, and I have happy memories of the two of them, side by side, placidly snoozing away the winter days.
And here we are, almost thirty years later! I have a lot to tell you. You may remember my whining that I had to use a crutch or some other nasty apparatus to help me walk because of the pain in my back – well that seems to be a thing of the past. My doctor got tired of hearing the complaining – and the demands for increasing dosages of pain meds – and finally sent me to a pain clinic for an epidural injection of cortisone. I didn’t much like the sound of that – and almost anyone to whom I mentioned it made a face as if they didn’t like it either – but I thought, no point in whining, and then not doing what is recommended, so I went. I want to tell you – and anyone out there who may be considering the same treatment – it was the best thing I ever did! The doctor, a specialist in the procedure, explained it, and told me that I probably wouldn’t notice any difference for a few days, and perhaps not at all until the second scheduled injection about 6 weeks from now. But miraculously, I felt a difference as soon as I got off the table. Of course, I thought it wishful thinking, but the pain had gone, no question of it, and has been gone ever since. A wonderful idea – so now I can walk straight and therefore feel like walking more, which in turn is good for the back – so, well done, and thanks to modern science.
And probably a lot of you remember my dog Tuffy. I had always taken pride in the fact that she was (note the past tense) a fit and slim dog, always getting favorable comments by the veterinarian, until, late this summer – in fact, not too long after my knee surgery – the poor thing was bitten by a rattlesnake – and not only bitten, but bitten right on the face, so her poor little head swelled up, and she was, I would imagine, in terrible pain. I took her to my veterinary clinic where they gave her a dose of expensive anti venom, but told me that I would probably lose her. This was beyond dreadful, and when they told me that she would have to stay there overnight, but that their clinic was not staffed at night, I opted to take her to a wonderful place in Tucson, the Veterinary Specialty Center Tucson, which is totally like a people hospital, maybe better! Not only do they staff the wards all night, they also call you twice a day with an update, and take the very best care of the animals in their care. They had to give her two more anti venom shots, but finally she came home after five days there, very quiet, still swollen and still miserable, but at least alive.
Of course this homecoming and this misery led to some special treats, and, when she was fully recovered, and feeling herself again, I noticed that she had gained quite a bit of weight, so the treats stopped. But the ballooning weight didn’t – much to my puzzlement. She grew stouter and stouter, like a little round furry ball, and it drove me to distraction, wondering why. Until, one day, we found out. The goats’ feed dishes are up against their fence and, as they are both geriatric goats, the last reminders of my beloved Tinkerbelle, Snowball, Goadi et al, they get special feed in the shape of equine senior, a feed full of molasses and other good stuff, as well as oats. This, Tuffy had learned, could be obtained by sticking her head through the mesh fence and gobbling it up before the poor goats could have a go at it – with predictable results. Of course, once we found out, it was immediately fenced off with some mesh wire, much to her chagrin – so now she has taken to cruising around horse Tequila’s dinner plate in the hope of stealing some from him. Naturally, Tequila, being much larger and grumpier than the goats, will have none of it, and runs her off by snaking his head and backing his ears, so she is reduced to trying to mop up what he leaves – which, thankfully, is precious little… I am looking for some results now, hoping to get my slim girl back!
I am continuing this a few days later and it has suddenly turned cold – but cold!! There is snow on the tops of the mountains behind the house, and I have just come in from feeding the horses with Jimmy, as it’s Sunday and so Danny is off … and my hands and feet have turned into ice blocks! So far we have had over an inch and a quarter of rain from this storm and it’s still raining – lovely for the spring feed, and for the manzanita bushes on the mountains, which need this winter rain in order to bloom in February, and then produce their little red fruits (manzanitas, or little apples, in Spanish) which are so nice to eat when you’re out there in May without your water bottle!!
So, with all this cold, I got to thinking about some of the things that happened in the “old days” and I remembered a story my mother once told me about her father, who was a farmer in the old country, i.e. Czechoslovakia, as it was then. It was obviously a long time before our litigious society came into being, because people then took the law into their own hands, and did what they thought was right. The family lived in the farm homestead which had been built by some ancestor in 1472, as per the date inscribed on the barn door lintel, and the farm house was in the middle of the village, with the various outlying fields being reached by horse team and wagon, or team and whatever implement was needed. And of course, every year, it was necessary to go to the forest and cut lots of wood for the fires in the winter. Grandfather was a good farmer, and always had a tidy wood heap to sustain the family through the cold months – so he was understandably disgruntled one winter, when he noticed that someone had been helping himself to his firewood. He said nothing, but kept watching – and, sure enough, every so often more and more logs would disappear from the woodpile. He thought about it for a while and then hollowed out a log, put a bit of dynamite into it, stopped up the hole so you couldn’t see it had been tampered with, and placed it back in the woodpile. And then he sat … and waited. Nothing happened for a while, and then, a couple of weeks later, the postmaster’s chimney blew up. It was a heck of an explosion! Nothing was said, but the wood stopped disappearing. Now, wasn’t that a better world? Can you imagine this same scenario today? It would keep an army of lawyers busy for years!
The same grandfather was a great horseman – probably where I get my love of horses – and he was famous for being able to gentle even the most vicious. Grandma understandably didn’t approve of this, and kept at him to give up this dangerous hobby. She finally won when he came home one day with a good-looking, but nasty-tempered mare which almost tore off his shoulder. After the blood and the yelling stopped, he agreed – no more outlaw horses! But I still remember him sitting up on the farm wagon, serenely guiding his team through the fields. I guess I was lucky in that the war had forced everyone back to the horse and buggy days. It was strictly forbidden by the Nazi regime to use cars or tractors, as gasoline had to be conserved for the war effort, and if you were caught driving a car, the solution was simple – you were bundled up by the Gestapo and shot that evening. But yet I owe some great memories to this horrible regime – I got to ride my horse to school, we drove to church in a carriage, with the coachman sitting up front behind a pair of matched sorrels, and I got to drive with my grandfather to the fields – memories I would not have had otherwise.
This is a few days later. Those of you who have been here during round-up time will remember that there always has to be someone ahead of the cattle herd, to be positioned next to the opened big arena gate, and block the cattle from going past it up into the yard. It was always a rush for some person who was in a forward position on the cattle drive – and generally it was me – to gallop ahead of the herd and get into place before the cattle swept down the hill, running, kicking and bucking, into the arena. I got a bit tired of this – and nowadays, when the crew often consists of just a few people, it seemed a good idea to find some other way of blocking this space. We solved it by getting an 8 ft. hog panel some 5 ft. high, made of strong mesh wire. This Danny strengthened by welding a piece of rod down the middle of it, then he put hinges on one end and attached these to a post he had sunk into cement by the fence to the Horse Trap. Wonderful! I have just returned from a trial run of this marvel – you open the corral gate as far as it will go, swing the panel gate to meet it, attach the two together by means of a couple of pins which drop down into receptacles on the red gate, and there you have it! A natural cattle funnel in to the main corral, and no need for a person to stand there.
I like to think that Gerry would approve of all the changes I have made to the ranch since he left us. All the buildings have been repainted, we cleaned out the old tack room and made it into a bunkhouse, then cleaned out the old shed next to the feed room (which had to double up as a tack room as well – very unhandy and terribly crowded!) – and made the shed into a separate tack room, with a stand for every saddle, and tidy racks on the wall for all the labeled bridles and halters – very neat. All this is made possible by the fact that I don’t have Grapevine to worry about – and Danny probably rues the day when I was turned loose to think of all these innovations! But they do make the place more efficient, no question.
So – I hear the Polaris ramping up outside for the afternoon feeding, so it’s time for me to get out there and make myself a bit useful…
Have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy – and, as far we are able to do so these days – a prosperous New Year!