Monday, April 20, 2009

In Your Face!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that spring has finally sprung in your neck of the woods.

I took a road trip recently with a couple of girlfriends. We went to a British tea shop up in Michigan, and hit some antique stores along the way. There was one store in a building that looked like an old log ranch house, and I seem to recall that the name of the place was rather horsey-sounding: Old Stables Antiques, or some such. While the merchandise inside was interesting, it paled in signifigance to what was out back.

Out back, behind the parking lot, was a sizeable pasture. It was a beautiful spring day, and I could see horses grazing in the distance. There was also a fenced-in area just next to the parking lot, and to my considerable surprise, the animal contained within this pen was not a horse, but a llama. Cool!

Naturally, my excitement over the antiques quicky dissipated as my critter enthusiasm kicked into high gear. "Good morning, Llama!" I called as I made my way across the lot. I find that it's a good idea to announce yourself in advance of an approach - some animals are initially quite shy, so it's best to give them a little warning that you're coming to say hello. In this case, the llama perked up and walked over the the fence to greet me.

I've only met a few horses in my time who were brave and/or interested enough to stand nose-to-nose with me. Most horses will give you a quick, curious sniff, and then go back to whatever they were doing before you interrupted them. I've been told that, being prey animals, they want to know what you've been eating lately (like meat, for instance, in which case they're going to worry that you're there for a horse meat snack), which explains why the first thing they usually want to smell is your breath.

It's probably a little careless on my part to let any animal that big get that close to my face. Because their whole head is made up mainly of bones, any sudden movement on their part could cost you your skull: all those hard horse bones smacking into your head could break just about every bone you have. Even so, I doubt that there's a horseman/woman out there who would pass up the opportunity to give their favorite horse a kiss on the nose. We do it, but we do it mindful of what the danger is.

In any event, the antique store llama, being considerably smaller than the average horse, didn't seem to present an immediate threat to my cranial well-being. It did surprise the hell out of me, though, when he plastered his nose against my own, and stood there for some minutes in that position. At first, I experienced my usual moment of "Uh-oh. Is this a good idea?" Then, deciding to get into the spirit of the thing, I simply stood my ground, looked him in the eye and spoke quietly to him.

"How ya doin', Llama?" I inquired. In lieu of a name - he wasn't wearing any identification - I generally address an animal by his species. The llama said nothing in reply, he merely continued to look at me softly through gentle brown eyes as though he'd never seen a human up close before. We remained like this for several minutes. He finally broke the spell by pulling away, and I wandered back to the antiques inside the store. And while I fully enjoyed the outing with my friends, you already know that my visit with the llama was the high point of the trip for me!

Apart from the road trip, I slept in for several weekends. I wanted to put a little distance between me and old Mikey's death before I went back to the barn. I should've known, though, that the Gods would try to balance out the karma by throwing some positive critter experiences my way. They do it all the time, but I'm not always open to it. This past Saturday, I was.

It's not unusual for Cricket the donkey to do a little braying when she first sees me. It's entirely motivated by the fact that she knows I've got treats on me, and I can usually get her started by giving a few of those treats to someone other than her. Even so, I don't know how long it's been since she actually hee-hawed at me. Usually, it's more of a "snuff-snuff-haw!" This time, though, she threw the whole thing my way!

I had walked into the barn, grabbed a pitchfork and started scooping poop without any of the usual preamble. Ordinarily, I would wander around a bit first, greet those critters who're in stalls, and chat with my fellow barn cleaners. That day, Cricket was aware of my presence well before I'd even given her a thought. As I walked into that end stall, though - and into her line of sight - I heard, "Snuff-snuff-snuff-heeeee-haawwww!" I whirled around in surprise. There she was, two stalls away, looking at me through the bars.

"Cricket!" I hollered, "my favoritest donkey in the whole world!" The barn crew laughed along with me.

"It's nice to be loved," I remarked, while Kaye observed, "She's missed you!" I frankly didn't think Cricket liked me enough to miss me.

I went back to poop scooping, then, thinking that sometimes, the Gods really go out of their way to make you feel like your efforts amount to something. It's enough to know that my once-a-week volunteering makes a difference in the lives of the barn critters; anything else - like Cricket's braying, or the occasional ride on Ruckus - is gravy. But it's really good gravy: every once in a while, one animal or another will let me know that they enjoy my company, and that's a reward all its' own.

There was more, later that same day. Nancy's boarding a new horse these days, one that may (hopefully) or may not end up being a permanent resident. His name is Jem, and I met him for the first time a few weeks ago. He had charmed me enough at that first meeting that I was looking forward to seeing him again this time. Once we'd finished cleaning all the stalls, I went looking for him.

I stood in front of his stall talking quietly to him. He pushed his nose up against mine in greeting - just as the llama had done, and we stood like that for some minutes. I was enchanted as much by his gentleness as by his friendliness, and I began to wonder what it would take to make him mine.

Mind you, I'm not a wealthy woman. To be honest, I really don't have much of nuthin'. But when boyfriend John and I first began emailing (we met online), and he sent me pictures of the farm he lives on, my first set of questions - even though we hadn't actually met in person yet - went like this:

What kind of crops do you grow?

Where would the horses live?

Does farming thirty acres pay the bills?

Where would the horses live?

What do you do when there's a drought year?

Where would the horses live?

To his credit, John resisted the urge to change his email address. Instead, he gamely talked about where a horse barn could feasibly be located someday. Between you and I, he has no idea how rapidly "someday" is approaching! Once he meets Jem, I think he'll understand.

So while part of my heart is torn and aching from the loss of Pretty Boy, Peepers, and old Mikey, there's still plenty of room left for whatever comes next. Could be a new duckling at the pond, could be a cool horse named Jem. When I know, you'll be the first people I tell!

Thanks again for stopping by! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

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