Country living is like having an obsessive-compulsive hobby, and my husband and I are obsessive-compulsive hobby farmers. We bought six acres in Saint Cloud, and then we bought three horses and had someone give us a dog. There’s a cat, but she came with the place. We don’t raise corn, or soybeans, or veal. A hobby farm is a lot like a black hole—stuff (like money) goes in but nothing (like money) comes out.
My husband has a real job. He fiddles around with computer related software during the week and makes money. I have a real job. I fiddle around with words on paper. I barely make enough money to pay for the paper, but we both play hobby farm on the weekends: by mowing, chopping, digging, burning, nailing, pressure washing, and sheath cleaning. The real point of our hobby farm is horses—the brushing, the riding, the watering, and the feeding of horses, and then there are questions of gelding hygiene, of course.
One of the horses in our stable is an old sickle-hocked gelding in an advanced stage of aging, or as I like to say, “He has two good legs, one bad leg, and one hoof on a banana peel.” Sonny is a rescue horse, and once upon a time, he must have been something to look at—now he’s a broken down paint horse standing in the shade of a live oak—nursing a bad attitude and gas. Also once, he was a boy horse, but now he’s a gelding with a high pitched whinny, arthritic hips, and sheath issues. He gives our hobby farm an air of slow moving southern charm and the feel of days gone by—sometimes.
Sometimes he needs his sheath cleaned—mostly in the fragrant, gentle spring.
“Honey,” I said to my husband, one fragrant and gentle spring, “I think that it’s time to clean old Sonny’s sheath.” The sun drifted over the barn like a fried egg. Flies buzzed in groggy, dopey circles. Horses pooped.
My husband looked mildly suspicious, his hands instinctively clenching a pitchfork, his knuckles growing white.
“His sheath,” I repeated, leaning against the barn door and waving my hand vaguely in the direction of the paddock. “Think, sword and scabbard, like in pirate fighting.”
His knuckles started to look like bloodless doorknobs.
“Scabbard! Sheath! What are you talking about?”
“You know the thing that the sword goes into—the scabbard—you know, the thing that protects the sword.” I pantomimed putting an invisible sword into an invisible scabbard. “Sonny’s scabbard (i.e. his sheath) needs cleaning.” I crossed my arms across my chest confident in my diagnosis.
Frown lines creased my husband’s forehead, as he pondered all the potential symbolic sword related possibilities. Leaning on the pitchfork like a D.O.T. worker on a break and standing in a puddle of horse droppings, the slow light of understanding crept into his face. Horror etched harsh lines under his eyes.
He looked at the old grouch of a horse napping in the shade next to the barn, and said, “You can’t possibly mean . . .” He bit his lip, and I though I detected the glint of a single tear in his eye. “That someone has to reach up and . . . grab or clean . . . inside his . . . with what? And how? And more importantly for the love of all that’s decent—why?!”
“Because boy horses, who are geldings, get waxy gick buildup if you don’t clean their . . .”
“Yea, yea, yea, sword holder.” His sarcasm hid despair and mild panic. “I get it.”
Sonny slapped at one boney hip with his tail. He snorted, shook his head at some imagined slight, and then farted.
“Now there are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can wait until he goes to the bathroom and drops his . . .”
“I am not standing out here waiting for that old grump to pee.”
“Or you can go up in there and grab it.”
The horror spread from my husband’s face to his entire body. His limbs went rigid right before he dropped the pitchfork. Then his hands flew to his mouth, and through gritted teeth he asked, “Clean it with what?”
“Well, I’ve seen people use Vaseline, or warm soapy water, or . . .”
Sonny decided at that very moment to drop his sword and urinate.
Snapping to attention, I yelled, “Hurry Sherwood, run for the Vaseline.” He froze like a hunted rabbit staring into a rattlesnake den.
“Hurry man, now’s our chance.” I rolled up my sleeves, and squared my shoulders. Sherwood turned and stumbled into the gloom of the barn like a man planning to boil water for an emergency birth on a kitchen table.
“And Sherwood,” I yelled. He paused and looked back. “Don’t forget the rubber gloves.”
That’s one reason we moved here, to be surrounded by the thumping of nature, and to have horses, and butterfly gardens, and grandchildren, and quiet weekends in the country, and to be up to our elbows in nature, of course. In the fragrant and gentle spring, the American Bald Eagles swoop down from their massive nest behind our house to tear our neighbor’s baby lambs bloody bit from bloody bit. Watching the eagles take turns turning the baby lambs into Bald Eagle jerky, my husband took my hand and asked, “I wonder if PETA knows about this?”
“I think there’s a lot PETA doesn’t know about Mother Nature,” I sighed.
An eagle’s shadow drifted over the swayed back of our old rescue horse, Sonny, as he dozed in the shade of a live oak.