Written By Barbara O’Brien
When I woke up this morning my heart was pounding and I was gasping for air. My hands were trembling and I could barely speak. I had a bad dream, I dreamed… I dreamed… that I lived in town! For those of you who wake up in cities or towns across the world every day this is no big thing, but for a tried and true animal person like me, living in town would be a nightmare.
Where would I keep the horses? And how would I grow enough hay in a backyard that could barely sustain a 20-foot vegetable garden? And how about the sheep, chickens, and the dozen or so cats that call my farm home? And much like the Grinch how could I bear the Noise! The Noise! The Noise! When we lived in town there was always car after car buzzing down our street, smoky diesel buses rumbling past and planes both large and small roaring overhead.
Oh no, not I. I turn over and take a breath and remember where I am. I am waking up in my old farmhouse with its leaky, frosty windows, rattling radiators and good solid bones. I remember that the house is sitting on the prettiest 40 acres in Pierce County Wisconsin with its gentle rolling fields and patches of woods where many generations of deer and pheasant have found refuge.
I turn to see dear husband sleeping quietly next to me and think of my four sons and Sarah safe and sound in their beds. I remember that I am a very lucky girl.
I would like to stay there a moment longer, but Louisa, one of my acting cats, begins her morning ritual of scratching at the bedroom door. It doesn’t matter if she is in the room or out. She knows the scratching bothers me and the old fir bedroom door shows all the signs of her abuse with a hundred tiny scratches about cat high reaching towards the knob.
Her door destruction rouses the dogs, a clever boarder collie Aussie mix, named Apple, and an equally clever but not as fast German Shepherd named, Lisle. They have been curled up on their plush dogs beds in the corner of our room and now that the cat has signaled that it is almost dawn they snuffle me with their noses and try to get me out of bed.
It has been cold during the night. I always turn the heat down in a vain attempt to keep the propane monster at bay and I wish I could stay in bed like city people do. I picture them basking in their well-insulated houses and shelling out mere pittances by comparison to the natural gas company.
But the dogs are persistent and even on this 10 below morning; there are chores to do.
I go down and feed the house cats, which usually number between 2 and 7 depending who is working that week and make some coffee.
I listen to the weather for a moment. If I am going to go outside and in the bitter cold, I want to know just how bitterly cold it is so I can brag about it later.
Checking the time and seeing it is exactly 25 minutes before the school bus arrives, I roust Sarah and William and Walker from bed and set out to do chores. I am still in my jammies. No point in getting my good clothes on just to do chores. I begin to gather up the accruements that will help me in my task. I start with my Carhartt insulated bibs. These are nothing like the stylish, pull on ski pants, that I have seen in James Bond movies. These are heavy insulated bibs with zippers and snaps that extend the full length of the leg so you can pull them on or off over your boots and adjustable straps depending on if you are a tall farmer or a short farmer. Carhartt and others have started making insulated coveralls and bibs just for women and I was one of the first to snap one up. Nothing keeps me warmer and the freezing wind out better. The next layer is my down vest that I picked up on clearance at Lands End 15 years ago. I tuck a homemade polar fleece scarf around my neck. It sports lovely green John Deere tractors. My mother made it for one of the boys but seeing it’s potential I stole it. I pull my equally warm, made for a woman, Carhartt jacket. (Those Carhartt people are geniuses, aren’t they?)
I then pull on my pac boots. I had been loyal to my 1984 sorrels for over 20 years but when I saw that Sorel had come out with a similar pac boot, BUT IN PLAID! I jumped at the change to replace my old ones. The 1984 boots were amazingly still usable so I put them in the boot box in the granary, which we keep for guests foolish enough to arrive without proper boots.
I top off my ensemble with an Elmer Fudd type wool hat, the earpieces pulled down and the hat strapped firmly to my chin. I slide my hand into my angora gloves which I quickly top with fleece lined leather choppers and I am finally ready to go out.
One more sip of coffee and I am out the door. The snow crunches under my feet and a few brave cats leave the refuge of their heated spot in the barn to greet me. They meow and roll at my feet, entreating to me move faster as they are starving. It has been a whole day since they have been fed!
The horses notice my arrival and began to stir. She and the man are the ones who bring hay! I tell them to finish what they have. They will have to wait for evening chores when we will use the tractor to deliver more hay.
I feed the cats in a long row on two tables set up n their little cat room, which in its earlier life was used as calf barn and was the original settler barn. The walls are made of thick squared off logs and it has a built in manger for the livestock. Luckily, during the late 1900’s owners were thinking of expanding, they saw fit to keep it and put the barn right over it. It is a small room with a low ceiling and when Kevin bumps his head into the lintel he blames the short, but industrious Swede who built it.
I move on to the chicken barn, which houses our 40 odd hens, 3 roosters, two mallard ducks and our small flock of sheep. I fill the feeders with lay mash and throw out a scoop of cracked corn for them to pick at. The sheep begin to baa and bleat which means; Hurry! Hurry! Open the door so we can go out for the day! I take their water trough outside which in reality is an extra large rubber feed pan. I flip it over so I can vigorously jump on it to in an attempt to break apart the thick, solid block of ice that has formed in it over night. I repeat this with the chicken water and admonish the hens to produce more eggs even though it is very cold.
I hear the school bus coming down our mile long driveway and call out good-bye to the kids as they board the bus. The dogs half-heartedly try to chase the bus, but I call them back and tell them to behave.
I go to the round bale we have placed next to the barn and pull off a deer sled full of hay to bring to the sheep. I drag it through the snow and teeter totter it over the fence and dump it before them. They descend upon it like rugby players after the ball. They pile on top of each other to get at the tender part of the alfalfa leaves and stems.
I then check on all the horse and ponies. Their muzzles are covered in frost and they are grateful for the horse treats Kevin keeps stocked in each barn, I slip my hand out of my glove and put it under the thick mane of my favorite, a fat little Morgan gelding named Finn, and it is warmed instantly by the full plush thickness of his winter coat. I check the water troughs to make sure the tank heaters are working and I pat each horse and say my farewells.
My nose runs and my eyes sting with the sharp wind as it hits my face as I trudge slowly back to the house. I am anxious to shed my layers and sit on the radiator while I sip more coffee. The dogs follow me in and the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. Kevin is up now, and I can smell and toast and homemade jam. We take turns with morning chores, but we always do evening chores together as they are much more arduous.
As I sit down with him, I smile and count my blessings that I am right here, right now and nowhere else.
All is Well and I am pleased that this is real and not a dream.
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