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Friday, April 03 2020

I continue to learn life lessons from this ole girl. Lily was my first Border Collie. Had I started with Trace the Troll, I probably would never have bought another one. Instead, I began my journey with Lily, the Perfect Dog. She isn't the perfect sheepdog. Nor the perfect cow dog. But she is the perfect stockdog and the best little partner you could ever ask for in an employee and friend. Over time she's gradually given over the reins of the stock work to Mesa. Lily is happy enough to sit in the Kubota and supervise. 

And sticks.

She still loves to carry sticks and entice me into a game of fetch. 

The problem with fetch is that younger and faster dogs will always beat her to the stick so unless she's alone, I rarely toss it. No worries. She's happy enough to select and carry sticks anyway. The sad part is that the young Border Collies will do drive-bys and snatch sticks right out of Lily's mouth. Just because. It's the canine equivalent of someone stealing your parking place. But does Lily get angry? Does she shake her paw and growl ugly things at the rudeness that reigns supreme? No. 

No. Every single time Lily shakes it off with a smile and races away in search of another perfect stick. I never play fetch with the stick thief anyway, so there is no reward for them to steal Lily's stick. But I do take notice of Lily's steadfast good nature and determination to not let the ugliness in this world get her down. Like a rubber ducky, she rocks and rolls and rises to the top - with a smile on her face. 

This morning I saw Wyatt snatch a stick right out of Lily's mouth just as he does ten or twenty times a day. Younger, stronger, and faster, he raced off with his prize. Lily cast her eyes in my direction and smiled. No worries. She bounced off in search of another perfect stick. That got me to thinking that perhaps we could all take a lesson from Lily. In life there will always be setbacks. Life will find a way to steal your stick. It's how we respond to these setbacks that matter. 

I watched the younger dogs race off to play in the distance as Lily bounded up with a smile and another stick. This time I reached down and tossed the perfect stick for her. It was an ah-ha moment for me. Lily raced off to retrieve her stick and I thought about what I'd just learned. Don't get upset. Go with the flow. Just keep doing your best with a smile. God sees you. He will toss your stick when the time is right. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:40 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, April 01 2020

I keep hearing a term being tossed around - the "new normal."

As this pandemic sweeps across the world, very few remain untouched. Those of us who live on farms are perhaps better able to exist in a state of self-quarantine since that really doesn't change our day to day lives much. We aren't going stir crazy here because there is plenty to do and yet, we no longer feel the pressure that we need to be somewhere else. There is nowhere else to be. Somehow that makes it a little easier to do chores and tackle the list of honey-dos you've been putting off. 

Foraging expeditions for necessary items are stressful and leave that nagging fear I may bring the virus home. That means another two weeks of quarantine before we can relax. We see others not taking things seriously. Either they have no clue how easily items are contaminated or they are apathetic. I've spent enough years collecting DNA that I know how many places this virus may linger. Therefore I take no trip in public casually. We watch the news and are appalled by the number of people who selfishly continue to gather in large groups. Either they are oblivious or they do not care. It doesn't look good for us as a society. I can only imagine that the Italians see news reports of American spring breaks and simply shake their heads. 

I spend a lot more time outside now. Spring allergy season brings a whole new twist. "Is it cedar pollen or Coronavirus?" I've never been a hypochondriac but now I worry. How many people could I infect if I carried the virus? But as we look around us, we realize that we are blessed to be living away from the Metroplex and like everyone else, we're getting a taste of what's really important. I can raise anything that can walk to water but my gardening skills are less than stellar so now I'm feeling that pinch. I still plan to put in another garden this year but my backup plan is to trade eggs, meat, and cash with friends who have better gardening skills. Now more than ever we must share our skills and buy local where we can. 

My chickens are now essential personnel.  Their eggs provide for four families and so when a rat snake killed an adult hen last week, not only was I livid but it rattled me a bit. The hens are essential and cannot be easily replaced. Snake lovers, please spare me your protests that rat snakes only eat eggs and will not kill adult birds. Horse Hockey!

"There is no rat snake in Texas big enough to eat a chicken!" (Yes, I heard this one.)

I didn't say the snake ATE the hen, I said he killed her. These snakes that eat birds don't necessarily stop to consider that they cannot eat the bird they kill and so the shocked and enraged farmer is left with a dead hen that was alive ten minutes earlier before she walked into the coop where a snake was hiding. She is dead. Her head is now purple and wet. I have a friend who lost three hens in one night as the snake went from hen to sleeping hen. She found three dead hens and a rat snake the next morning. Pardon me, but now I make no apologies for killing any rat snake I find in my chicken yard. 

"But the snake has to eat!" 

So do I, darling. So do the four families that hen fed. There is nothing like a pandemic to bring out our basic instincts. I'm not gonna fight over toilet paper, but come after my chickens and I will shoot your ass. 

The Navajo-Churro sheep show that was to be held here in October was cancelled and so now the wether and rams that were to be butchered for the show dinner will end up in my freezer instead. I'm still eating on a bull we butchered years ago. The meat is good and each time I open the freezer I'm thankful for his sacrifice to feed my family. Ironically the price of beef in grocery stores continues to climb yet beef on the hoof has plummeted in value. Four main meat buyers have a monopoly and so as the American public pays more for beef cuts, the American rancher can no longer afford to sell his cattle at auction because they bring a fraction of their former value. Unless cattle prices come back up, our calves are worth more to us in local freezers. And our own. 

My new normal more closely resembles my old normal except that now it's a necessity. I'm back to tending the sheep in the pasture but now it's because I must stretch that corn as far as possible. Not only do I not have a paycheck but each trip out endangers me or others if I happen to be carrying the virus. (Until we know differently, we must all assume we are carriers.) So out to the pasture I go. I take a few dogs to manage the flock and protect the lambs from being snatched. They are large enough to keep up now but sometimes they get absorbed in grazing and don't notice when the flock moves on. If I have two or three Big White Dogs around any predator lurking will be detected before a lamb disappears. 

Like the rest of the country, we are cooking from scratch more now. I'm back to baking a lot of sourdough bread so I didn't panic when the bread was sold out at the grocery store. For the first time we are actually fishing for dinner instead of entertaining the grandchildren. It's nice to know that in less time it would take us to go to the grocery store, we had caught two fat catfish. Two catfish, two potatoes, and a few hush puppies fed two people dinner and lunch the next day. 

Last week I was astounded when I went to the grocery store and found it sold out of all pasta and dried beans. As a child we were really poor. I remember asking my mother, "Momma, are we poor?"

"No baby, we're just broke right now."

My momma knew how to cook and stretch a meal so that you enjoyed Poor Man's food. Now it's called "comfort food." It's really about making more with less. Now our family like many others, returns back to Poor Man's food, meals that fill you up for pennies. As a global society our "new normal" is slowing down, learning what's important, learning to rely on ourselves, but also to take care of each other. And maybe that's not a bad thing. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:03 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 23 2020


I received a gentle reminder from a long time reader that Facebook is nice, but I need to get back to blogging. 
 

She's right. 
 

Life had gotten busy and rather than slowing down and taking time to blog, I'd turned to social media. Facebook is nice, but she's right, it's a poor substitute for real writing. That said, in the face of this pandemic it's a good time to get blogging again. We are all being forced to assess our life choices. Choosing an early retirement meant a whole lot less money but a richer life. It meant taking part time jobs. I teach forensics at a local police academy now and I substitute teach at our local middle school. Since I was a sixth grade Science teacher before I was a police officer, it isn't much of a stretch, and I'm really enjoying being back in the classroom again.

But now, like many Americans, I'm out of work. That's okay because it allows me to go back to being a full time shepherd, and frankly, now the farm is literally putting food on the table. The hens have risen to a new level of prestige around here and that one rooster is king. He is the key to fertilized eggs if we need to incubate some eggs to expand the flock later. 
 

The sheep are now necessary resources. The ewes that were providing milk for making soap may soon be providing milk for my coffee. (God help us if I run out of coffee.) I didn't breed the goats this year and I'm having some regrets now. I may buy or borrow a buck later if it looks like it'll be necessary but for now I will rely on the sheep. My Sheep Mother taught me that sheep are a gift from our Creator and if we take care of the sheep, they'll take care of us. That has never been more true than now. The rains are here and so the pastures are lush. Unfortunately this has resulted in a worm bloom of epic proportions and I've had to worm sheep that I have not had to worm in three years. We only worm those individuals rather than the entire flock and I take note of who needed to be wormed. In this season I don't necessarily hold it against those who needed working but those who did not get a gold star. 
 

We have new lambs now. During lambing season we lost two lambs and my beloved milking ewe, Avis. Avis left us with an orphaned ram lamb, Cecil, who has become a bit of a Facebook darling. Oh, how I wish he'd been born a girl. It looks like he'll be a bottle baby ram with less than stellar horns so against the protests of the Other Half, he'll be neutered. I don't need a wether (neutered male sheep) but I can't butcher him either. My husband and a slew of people on Facebook would have my head on a pike, therefore Cecil is safe.

So now that I remember my password, and we've caught up, tomorrow we'll be back to regular blogging. I leave you with this image that I stumbled upon yesterday while I was checking fence. I followed the sound of running water to this sight. It was what my pastor would call a "yah God moment." This waterfall was so peaceful. It reminded me that in the midst of world chaos we need to slow down, breathe, and look for God. 
 

Peace. Be still.


 

I couldn't get the video to post here but if you have Facebook you can see it at Farm Fresh Forensics on Facebook. 

Posted by: Forensicfarmgirl AT 02:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, January 25 2020

I received this little needlefelted donkey in the mail last week. He was a gift from a friend - a friend I have never met. Like others among us, we are bound together by sheep. Our friendship is one more string on the web of women tied to each other by this  mystic connection between women and sheep.  There is something about sheep, a magical something, an earthy something, a something that only another touched by that magic can understand. From the shepherd who tends the wool on the animal, to the fiber artist who creates with that wool, the wool tendrils of the sheep bind women together. 

There is magic in wool - the magic of friendship. The wool leaves the hands of the shearer and the shepherd to continue its journey. Each hand that plunges into a bag of raw wool sizzles with magic as that fiber carries the sunshine of the sheep with it. The wool waits patiently for the touch of another woman destined to be part of the web, part of that network of women joined by the magic of fiber- the smell of the sheep. 

Sheep connect women. Many years ago a stranger came to my blog, drawn to me by my sheepdog and my sheep. We were soon joined by an invisible web of fiber as she became my elder, my Sheep Mother, and led me along the path of sacred sheep, teaching me the ways and the magic of this life. There I found other women, dear friends of hers, women whom she had never met in person, women who had bought wool from her sheep, women who were now connected to her and her sheep, and as happens, now to me. 

Last summer a large box showed up at my front gate. Too big to fit in the mailbox, it was left on the ground beside the gate, where it patiently waited for me. Puzzled, I carefully cut the box open. There I found magic.

It moved me to tears. I cried for the woman who sent the box - a woman who had lost a mother. I cried for the mother, a dear friend of my Sheep Mother, women who had never met in person, but were bound together by the fiber of sheep. Theirs was a friendship borne in sheep. Just like she and I, they were spun together to form a yarn of close friendship. They had never touched fingers, and yet they are forever entwined. 

In the box was a drum carder, a most expensive tool used to process fiber before spinning it into yarn. As I gingerly lifted it from the box, tears welled in my eyes. A woman I had never even spoken with sent me this because such is the tie of sheep that holds women together. And in time, I will also pass down this drum carder to another woman bound to us by the sheep. 

I see the patterns in this spiderweb of women and sheep now. The sheep and the wool bind us, but as we age and lives change the daily care of the sheep moves to younger women who are led by the wisdom of our elders. In turn, we share these sheep and their wool with them. The sheep are not ours to own, but belong to the community of women bound to each other. The wool we harvest is shared with our elders who no longer manage their own flocks. In turn they share their wisdom and their stories with younger women along the web. And at the center of the web, is the humble sheep, this gift from the Creator that cares for and binds generations of women together.

Posted by: Forensicfarmgirl AT 10:27 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, November 13 2019

Temperatures this week dipped into real winter and dog lovers everywhere are being bombarded with reminders to bring their dogs inside. I can appreciate that. I really can. I like my dogs to be cozy and happy too, but I fear that too often all dogs are painted with the same brush and we can forget that not every dog's idea of cozy is a bed beside the fire.

I give you State's Exhibit A - the Livestock Guardian Dog.

These dogs were bred to be outside dogs who live with the flock and serve as protection against predators. They are hardwired for the job. It's in their DNA. While some dogs are happy lounging on the couch, these dogs are bred to be guardians in harsh weather. Read my lips - they don't want to be in the house on a cold night when the coyotes are yipping in the dark. They just don't. If you can't wrap your mind around that concept, don't get a Livestock Guardian Dog breed, get a Golden Retriever. 

Let me share this battle with you.

It's a fight, people. It's a fight. Every damned night since the weather turned cold, it's been a fight. 

Briar is an aging Livestock Guardian Dog. She has cataracts and her hips are bad. Sometimes her back legs lock up on her and getting up and down is hard. She NEEDS to stay in the house during cold weather. I have attempted to move her into my office at night where she has a nice, thick dog bed and she's far enough away from the heater that she doesn't get hot. It's still a fight. I have compromised by allowing her to stay locked in the chicken yard so that she can throw insults at coyotes but cannot plod off into the dark like a war horse and get herself killed.

The temperatures dipped into the teens the night before last. I didn't want Briar outside, so I locked her in my office. Each time I gave her a potty break she tried to slink away. Three times! Three separate times that old dog snuck off so she wouldn't have to come back inside the house. The first time I found her stationed in the driveway . The second time I found her by the chicken yard. The third time Briar actually made it into the pasture and was barking at coyotes that were hurling insults at her. The younger Pyrenees and I had to stomp out in the dark with a flashlight to retrieve a very sullen old dog and drag her back into the house. 

Last night the clouds parted and with clear skies I expected lower temperatures. I fed the dogs early and gave all the house dogs breaks. Briar saw the writing on the wall and snuck off again. I found her behind the sheep pen. With the promise of a cookie I lured her back into my office. She was soon politely scratching the door. At the next potty break she made a dash for it. I heard them too. On a clear, cold night they're easy to hear. Coyotes. 

So I gave up. I let her stay in the chicken yard in the cold. And she was happy. I worried that this morning it would be a Rimadyl Day but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the gate to find her in the cheeriest of moods. The barnyard was blanketed with frost and so was Briar. But she was happy. We fed the sheep and took a walk in the pasture. As I sipped my coffee and watched Briar, I gave some thought to animal rights. 

Few people who know me would argue that I don't care for my dogs. In fact, I spend more money on my animals than on myself. That said, care is not always about premium dog food and a bed beside the fire. Sometimes care is letting them be the dogs they were bred to be without projecting our emotions onto them. 

And so I pass these photos on to you. After a long, cold night slinging insults at coyotes you can see that once again, Briar passed up the offer to come inside by the fire. Instead she wanted to go into the pasture, revel in the rising sun, read her pee mail, and roll in the frost. Briar doesn't want a dog bed in the house. She wants to be barking at coyotes on a cold, starry night. Briar wants to be a warrior. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, November 09 2019

I am so thankful for morning walks. It is hunting season now and so the sheep have been pulled into the lower pasture and barnyard because the Anatolian Shepherds must remain locked up. This leaves an old Pyrenees cross and an adolescent Pyrenees pup to guard the flock. They get by, but without the Anatolians, the coyotes get bolder. They come to yip at the fence to test for Anatolians. The old dog must stay locked with the chickens and the young dog doesn’t leave her sheep to address cheeky coyotes. 

When the sun comes up we take a walk in the pasture to read our pee mail and run the Border Collies. I sip coffee as I am followed by nine dogs, five guineas, and one black cat. There is a lot to be learned on that walk. 

We can choose to crash through the day with the wild abandon of a Border Collie breaking through the mist to hit the pond. 

Or, like the old Livestock Guardian Dog, we can choose to thoughtfully map out our day by going through the details of yesterday and last night. 

Or, like the five guineas, we can choose to dart here and there, and ricochet through the day like a pin ball bouncing in whatever direction life sends us. 

The choice is ours. Choose wisely. 

Posted by: Forensicfarmgirl AT 12:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, August 01 2019

I always knew my life would go to the dogs. I added it up a couple of days ago and I’ve been training dogs over 45 years now. Training dogs and training people to train dogs has been really rewarding, and I’ve made so many lifelong friends doing it. My perspective has changed a lot over the years. Now I no longer have my show dogs, trial dogs, search dogs, or police dogs. There are only my ranch dogs. These scruffy farm dogs have less obedience training than my other dogs but far more responsibility. They aren’t my toys, they’re my tools. Truth be told, they’re more - they’re partners. They’re co-workers. They aren’t pets, but they are family. 

Things change when your paycheck depends upon the work the dogs do. It gets serious then. A hobby farm with outside incomes can take the hits that a small working ranch cannot. Around here a dead calf is a mortgage payment. I depend upon those Livestock Guardian Dogs, they aren’t just decoration. And the Border Collies do so much work that I cannot even imagine how someone runs a ranch without them. 

This week an internet bully on a large Facebook group poked a stick at me because I said that I always have my Border Collies in tow when I’m doing farm chores, thus the house dogs and the LGDs must interact. She said that if the BCs were so needy that they couldn’t be separated from me when I was doing chores then I needed to train them. Pardon me? 

Isn’t that their freaking job? 

I bowed out of the discussion because I don’t entertain internet bullies but I chewed on her words and wondered why someone would believe such foolishness. She wasn’t a Border Collie trial person. I could understand her logic if that had been the case. Often trial people want to control every time their dog is exposed to livestock. I can wrap my mind around that concept. What I don’t understand is anyone who thinks you can create and use a good stockdog without actually using that dog for the chores. 

My Border Collies are handy for two reasons – they are there, and they know the routine. The dogs have work ethic. They see everything and want the world to spin according to the rules. Let us take, for instance, this morning. 

I never move rams without having a dog with me. If you think your tame ram won’t hurt you, then please sign me up as beneficiary on your life insurance policy. Normally Wyatt handles the rams and the calves, but today I allowed Lily to come with me to open the gate and let the rams back in with the calves. She’s getting older and is retired now, but since she just had to be a presence, I brought her. Neither of us counted on what would unfold. 

As I was locking the first gate behind me, the adult ram left the group of rams and rushed across the pen at Lily. She sidestepped his assault but fell into a deep crevice created by recent rains and he bowled her over. Lily was able to get out from underneath him as I yanked the gate open to release Wyatt. 

And that, Friends and Neighbors, is why you take Border Collies along when you’re doing chores. It’s not because they’re needy, it’s because YOU NEED THEM. 

Wyatt easily handled the ram with his signature M.C. Hammer “can’t touch this” move. The ram respects the young dog and obediently rejoined the group. Wyatt then moved them back into the pasture without incident.  Lily’s pride was hurt but otherwise she seemed fine. 

For Wyatt, it was just one more task in his already busy day. He and Mesa are the backbones around here. My day runs smoothly because when it doesn’t, I whistle for a dog to solve the problem. And they are there. Because they are always there. Watching. Waiting. Wanting to help. That’s the way Mesa learned to be a ranch dog, and that’s the way Wyatt is learning to be a ranch dog. They can’t learn the chores if they’re not there when I’m actually doing the chores. 

And so my perspective on dog training has changed a lot over 45 years. For dog people it’s easy to let your ego get wrapped up in the performance of your current working dog. Most of us have been guilty of it at some time, but hopefully after a while, we gained the wisdom to see past that, and we’ve become better people and better dog trainers because of it.  The other pitfall I see is that with years under the belt, it’s also easy to talk in absolutes, to see the world in black and white, with no gray, to bully people as you proclaim there is only one way to train a dog. I see it all the time. Mostly on the internet. Far too often it comes from someone with many years in the game, but few real experiences outside the familiar.

 Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” 

That’s pretty much my yardstick for assessing someone’s experience in anything. Not the years, but how much they think they know.  Often these people are simply victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect, an overconfidence born of limited experience. Not years, but experience. There’s a difference. The people with the most experience in a subject tend to be more open-minded and less apt to pound their beliefs into someone with a stick. 

So despite the advice of someone with 30 years of training dogs, I’ll continue to bring my Border Collies along when I do chores – because it’s their damned job. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 12:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 30 2019

This little dude is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t trash a “late bloomer.”

He’s finally got his head in the game and now he’s becoming handy. Handy is good, but the real question is “When it’s crunch time, will you reach for that dog?”

This evening was crunch time. And yes, I did. And he hit it out of the park.

We siphoned off some weanlings to keep at the house for Wyatt to work. I don’t believe in training pups on pairs. On our ranch, a cow will try to kill a dog who doesn’t bring his A game. Better to learn the skills on calves. They still kick and charge though. They still have to be dogbroke.

Today I was returning from town and discovered that one of our unweaned calves had somehow managed to get out of the pasture and onto the dirt road near the house. Figures. One of the rare times I didn’t have a Border Collie with me. Since both sides of that road are fenced, it wasn’t that big a deal to push the calf into the barnyard by myself. The problem was that the barnyard is over three acres and I wanted the calf to move away from the pasture containing his mother and into the pasture containing Wyatt’s weaned calves.

I tried Mesa at first, but the calf went ballistic. Frantic to get to his mother on the other side of the fence he was working himself into a foaming wreck whenever Mesa got near him. Mesa isn’t really a cowdog, she’s my go-to sheepdog. She was chosen because she has bells and whistles that Wyatt doesn’t have yet. But she doesn’t know cows.... and this little snot was kicking to beat the band. I opted to leave him in the barnyard until it cooled off some and he calmed down.

By evening it was cooler but it was crunch time. The calf HAD to be removed from the barnyard. He was ready to be weaned anyway so he might as well go in with the closest group by the house.

Enter Wyatt. I opened the gate that led to the weaned calves and whistled Wyatt to pick up that calf. And held my breath.

This calf was not one of the sane ones. No such luck. He flipped his tail over his back and ran straight into the trees on the other side of the pond. With his back to the fence the calf had a pretty good fortress in there. But he didn’t count on Wyatt to go THROUGH the pond to reach him. Wyatt never hesitated. He went straight across the pond and eased into the brush like a thief in the night.

Wyatt was calm and controlled but firm. It took that dog less time to pen that nut-job calf than it took me to walk out there. I was beyond elated. He’s beginning to understand his power and use it without getting into a scuffle or a rush. Although Mesa is tremendously talented, she doesn’t have the power in her eye and the confidence to handle something that much bigger than a sheep. Wyatt does.

I caught a glimpse of the dog he will become today. And I liked what I saw.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 23 2019


I stared at the chicken wing on the ground, its feathers waving in the breeze. Maybe the joke was on me. That chicken had
been alive an hour ago. Perhaps the fuzzy bobtailed butt I saw running in the dark a few nights earlier hadn't been a
stray cat, but was instead a young bobcat. Maybe. I chewed on that thought as the dog and I pieced together what was left
of the chicken.

The dogs had announced his presence under the tractor mower deck that night. Since it was the dead of winter and I wasn't 
worried about rattlesnakes, I leaned down for a peek. The dogs crammed in beside me. The cat shot out the other end. In
the dark he appeared to be tabby and white, with no tail. I was dumbfounded. How did a cat find his way to our ranch? He'd
have had to brave coyotes and Anatolian Shepherds to even get close enough to find a bowl of catfood. But as his
bobtailed butt disappeared beneath the cabin, I had to grudgingly give him credit for making the journey. And I filled the
catfood bowl. 

So days later, I stared at the chicken wing waving in the winter wind and questioned both my eyesight and my judgement.
Did I see a domestic cat? Or juvenile bobcat? The catfood bowl and the chicken coop were a mere twenty feet from each
other. 

A few days later all hell broke loose in the haybarn. I rounded the corner to see my black barn cat in a knock-down-
scratch-his-eyes-out with a large tabby and white bobtailed cat. On the one hand, it was nice to know that my eyesight
wasn't failing, on the other hand I was not happy to see a strange tomcat beating up the rightful inhabitant of my
haybarn. I slung a shovel at them and the tomcat ran off behind the tractor. The black cat spat out a few cuss words and
left. And thus Stage One of Bob's plan for Occupation was complete. 

He started in the haybarn. It was winter. He was hungry. We made no effort to evict him. Instead we left a bowl of food  
near the tractor and bid him good hunting. Because he had no tail and we had no imagination, we named him Bob. For a few
months he was a tabby and white shadow, skulking around corners. Then one day, one curious day, Bob appeared in the feed
room. Unbeknownst to us, Stage Two of his Occupation plan was unfolding.

We live in a barndominium. A house in a barn. With the animals. My living room door opens up into a paved barn aisle with
three stalls and feed room. The feed room is simply a stall with a metal gate. It contains several feed bins, a saddle
rack, a woodburning stove, and a shelf that is filled with items which should be tossed but that Other Half has declared
that he cannot live without. They are covered in dust and he has no clue what is on any of the shelves but he squeals like
a kindergartener at the mere mention of tossing them in the trash, so there they sit. Collecting dust. And bobtailed cats.
Bob took up residence in the feed room.

The first few weeks, much like Alice's Cheshire Cat, he was just a pair of eyes floating in space. Sometimes on the dusty
shelf. Sometimes behind the stove. Sometimes behind a bag of feed. We got used to Bob being there and enjoyed our glimpses
of him. The other four barn cats keep the rodent population under control, so we didn't need Bob, but we admired his
pluck. He had somehow managed to avoid being killed by coyotes and Livestock Guardian Dogs to end up in the barn. Home
base. Tag. You can't kill me here. 

And he was right. They couldn't kill him here. There is a strict NO KILLING CATS policy in the barnyard and this extends
to stray cats too. Bob basked in the glow of his newfound safe base. He had everything a cat would need here. Food. Water.
Shelter. The humans even gave him a real bed. Stuffed. Like from a Pet Store. It was a hand-me-down dog bed that the other
cat had peed in and the chickens laid eggs in, but Bob wasn't choosy. A bed was a bed. A bed was a home. Stage Two of
Occupation was complete. 

The beginning of Stage Three was heralded in with a yowl. A demanding, mournful yowl. The kind of yowl that announces to
the world that a cat is ever so hungry, and in fact his belly must surely be rubbing his backbone despite the full bowl of
catfood not three feet away. It was that kind of yowl. Bob began talking to us. Humans are easily trained and so each time
he yowled, we talked back to him. We made sure his little bowl was full. Humans are clever that way. Soon Bob became
bolder. He spent more and more time in plain view. No longer content to eat from his little bowl behind the stove, Bob
wanted to eat on top of the feed bin with the other cats. In plain view. When he caught you watching him, Bob froze, and
hissed soundlessly, then slunk back behind the stove. After a couple of months of this, something changed. Bob changed his
mind. It was so sudden that it caught me by surprise. Like a summer thunderstorm. Or a plant sale at Tractor Supply.

Bob wanted to be a pet. A pet. Like, me touching him. Petting him. This cat, who for months hissed and spat at everyone
who noticed him, suddenly flipped a switch and announced that he wanted to be a housepet. Well, not in the house. In the
barn. He "wanted" in the house. He started lurking at the back door. Demanding attention. The very cat who slunk in the
shadows for months made every effort to convince us that he was a most friendly chap who was quite deserving of a head rub
and yes, please, a back scratching. He arched his back and rubbed against my leg. I wasn't buying it. 

I like cats. I do. I like cats that I have raised from kittens. Cats who have had their shots. Tame cats. Cats who do not
ask to be petted and suddenly change their mind and bite you. Forgive me if I'm leery of a feral cat who swam through a
moat filled with raccoons with distemper to get to my back door. So I refused to pet Bob even when he rubbed against my
leg repeatedly. Other Half gave in quickly. He's friendlier than I am. He hasn't shot a raccoon with distemper yet. Soon Bob
and Other Half were friends. But Bob was not satisfied. Bob wanted the complete conquest. Bob wanted in the house. 

I assured him that was not going to happen. And even as I made this promise, I wondered. How did that cat get here? I
reached out to neighbors. Nobody was missing a tabby and white bobtailed cat. From his behavior, it was clear that Bob had a
home at some point. He loved. He was loved. My first clue came when he shed out for the summer. 

Being quite pushy, it was hard to see the back view of Bob's butt because his head was always in your face, demanding
attention. But as he got friendlier, Bob moved his homebase from the feed room to the top of the dog kennels at the back
door. (Just in case you changed your mind about letting him in the house.) This put Bob's butt at the right height to view
his tail. Bob did not appear to be a natural bobtailed cat. In fact, he appeared to have an anal prolapse. (No, I'm not
taking him to the vet for it. He has functioned quite well since last winter, it hasn't killed him yet. His next trip to
the vet will be to have those balls cut off.) After Bob shed out it was easy to see that he had two scars on either side
of his body. I had a cat with scars like that once. He'd been caught in the fan belt of a truck. Perhaps Bob had been
caught up in a fan belt thus resulting in scars and an anal prolapse. It is possible that Bob was either dumped
on the main gravel road a mile away or he rode in the truck until it stopped or he jumped out. No matter what happened,
Bob managed to survive his injuries and ended up in our barn. 

The true tale of Bob's journey to us may never be known. We were not looking for another cat but it appears we have been
conquered. I have given in and am now scratching his head and giving him back rubs. I realized that Stage Four of Bob's
Occupation was complete when I took pictures of him and posted them on Facebook to see if anyone could provide more clues. 

"If you don't want, we'll take him," a neighbor friend answered.

Oh dear. Getting rid of Bob hadn't quite crossed my mind. After all, he'd worked so hard to fit in here. My neighbor was not more than two miles away, so Bob would probably end up back in our barn anyway. Besides, he was annoying, but Stage Four of his Occupation was complete. Bob already had a home. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, July 10 2019

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

A sea of purple ripples in waves as we pass. With the humble name of Plains Horsemint, a single flower grabs attention but a carpet of purple glory is nothing short of spectacular. Majestic purple wildflowers clamor for their place in the sun. Their place in the spotlight. It’s their time. They line the roadway between my home and the nearby town. Shouldering in beside the Black-eyed Susans.

First came the Indian Paintbrushes, the welcome color of spring. Orange spikes filled pastures and lined the highways. They gave way to the warm goldens and reds of Indian Blankets, followed by the Black-eyed Susans and Plains Horsemint. City and country folk alike took the time to drive the highway, stop for pictures, and admire the show.

For months these wildflowers have put on a performance to rival any fireworks display, but rather than the pop and roar of the following wave, there is merely a quiet costume change for the next scene along the highway. The change is seamless. It’s hard to define when the last Indian Paintbrush faded to seed and when the first Plains Horsemint burst into bloom.  It is a well-choreographed Broadway show. Each flower blooming in its own time.

And perhaps there’s the lesson. In its own time.

I watch the lanky pup race across the pasture to pick up the calves. It’s not pretty but he’s getting the job done. In his time. He’s a late bloomer. Silly. Playful. Soft. His work ethic was as thin as a butterfly’s wing. He had flashes of brilliance surrounded by acres of mediocrity. But then something changed. The bud began to open. Slowly. The bud split open and a working dog bloomed. The pup got more serious. His brain began to catch up with his body. Now I still catch glimpses of that silly teenager but more and more I see the hardened glare of a stockdog at work. He is blooming. In his time.

“He’s my slow child.”

The words seared through me as the boy’s mother spoke them. Embarrassed, her son’s eyes darted away from mine. My heart cried for him. Perhaps like the pup, and like the wildflowers, it simply isn’t yet his time to bloom. How many of us are so hard on our children and ourselves because we haven’t learned the lesson in the wildflowers?

From the first cardinal that soared over the first Indian Paintbrush of spring to grasshoppers that play hopscotch over fading Black-eyed Susans on this hot July day, each scene has been choreographed to seamlessly shift into the next, providing months of glory. But what if?

What if they all bloomed at the same time?

There would be a brief riot of color that would explode and cascade to fading emptiness. And that would be it. Pollinators would work overtime like UPS deliverymen at Christmas but after a quick, glorious opening of packages we would be left with nothing but faded colored ribbons on the floor and a faint longing.  

Timing. It’s all about timing. Time those blooms. Everything isn’t meant to blossom at the same time. Slow down. Relax. Sit back and enjoy the show.  And so it is with pups and people and purple flowers.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 03:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email

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