Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dream House

We finished moving in on a Friday, spent one exhausted, dreamless night amongst the unopened boxes. The next day we went back to the house we’d been renting to clean it. On Sunday we moved our horses to a new barn. On Monday, the Bacon Provider left on a business trip.

After that I groped along in the fog of opening boxes, walking the dogs, finding a grocery store, and opening more boxes. I found the general store in town and bought toilet brushes, picture hooks, a plunger, and birdseed for the feeder.

In my desire to pack well, with children’s books in boxes with other children’s books, kitchen gadgets packed with kitchen gadgets, purses with purses, as I wished, I didn't do a good job of labeling, and some boxes still had writing on them from previous moves. So despite my efforts to be able to unpack in an organized fashion, it's been really haphazard. I’m opening boxes labeled with names my children no longer call themselves, or no label at all.

I dreamed strange dreams. I dreamed they added ultimate Frisbee as an Olympic sport and the refs wore jetpacks, and my oldest son had to teach them the rules. Then I dreamed he invented drone refs, and had a PhD in sports psychology, but gave it up to be an arborist.

Mrs. Gardenwinkle took good care of this house but there are a few little things to fix, in between setting up electricity and fuel oil and propane and garbage service. The doorbell isn't working. There is a thing, a piece of hardware that holds a shutter open, shaped like an “S,” that I didn’t know the name of, so I spent an afternoon finding the name of the thing, measuring the thing, and ordering a new one of those things. It’s called a shutter dog. One is missing from one of the shutters on the window outside my bedroom. When the wind blows the shutter closes, and it, too, startled me in the night. I dreamed and dreamed.

I woke around 4:50 a.m. each day all the next week, wondering where I was, and unable to figure it out quickly enough so I could go back to sleep. I made the habit of watching the sun rise from the big window in my new bedroom, the one with the ivy lattice wallpaper.

Our house in Seattle, which was largely perfect, had English ivy growing around the foundation on two sides (having been killed completely by peeing dogs on the third side). Dealing with that ivy was probably my most rage-inducing chore; it wanted to climb the house or work its way under the siding, and I spend many hours picking it off the house with my fingers. It was full of dead leaves and spiders and sometimes litter, and tangledy, and took most of an afternoon to trim it back, at least four times a year. So my official position is that I am against English Ivy, as a principle. But in my new house in Bedhead Hills there is English ivy on the wallpaper in my bedroom, and it reminds me of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who had ivy in her yard and on her needlepointed pillows. So, though I am looking forward to replacing it, I am enjoying it while it's still here, that ivy wallpaper. It's like being someone’s guest someplace, to wake up surrounded by someone else’s distinct taste. And it makes me think of my grandma.

That next weekend the Bacon Provider was back in town, and I woke up in the middle of the night to see a man standing on the windowsill of my bedroom. It was my husband, banging on the ceiling. I used strong language. He said we had squirrels.

The next morning, we went out to see, and we certainly had something; something made holes in the siding above our bedroom. Those holes were not there when I saw the house in mid-September, or went through the property with the inspector in late-September, or did a walk-through with the real estate agents the day before closing, in mid-October. Those were new holes. Those holes hadn't been there earlier in the week when I walked the dogs around the house. I called a company specializing in handling wildlife pest management. They sent a guy over on Monday. He said, "You don't got Squirrels. You gots woodpeckers."

He went on to explain that he could put a gel in the holes and if we left it there for six weeks the woodpeckers would not come back. “It don't hurt the woodpeckers. It scares them,” he said. “But they might go to another spot. They might make holes in your whole house.”

He told me to get rid of Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s bird feeder. And that today's visit would be $300.

I stood and watched him climb a ladder, and spread “woodpecker gel” in all the holes. Then he answered his phone and talked for a while, his head hard on the left, trapping the phone between his ear and his shoulder.

Later when I did some online research, I read that the woodpecker gel is bad for the birds, because it gets stuck on their feathers and makes it hard for them to keep warm. Various woodpecker-repelling strategies include a plastic owl (which they become accustomed to after a couple of days) and lengths of loose, shiny tape that move and flicker in the wind. And I was encouraged to feed the woodpeckers; they aren't going anywhere anyway.

The Bacon Provider felt that the woodpeckers provided a service to us, performing their own, more thorough inspection and revealing a couple of rotten pieces of siding. I made the case that I have a pressing need for my own owl, which can live in a special box we put on the roof, and hunt in our woods. I believe that my owl, semi-tame but mostly wild, will keep the woodpeckers off the house, and the nightmares away as well.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Out of the Woods

One of the horses, a gelding, settled in to the new barn right away, making himself popular with the staff for his calm demeanor and habit of grazing quietly in turnout. The other, a mare, has seemed tense and worried, though still willing enough to get out every day. It was a relief when finally she dropped her head and relaxed for the first time on a trail ride in the woods last Friday.

At 18, the mare Nacari is no longer sound for much more than trail rides. A suspensory ligament tear almost a decade ago never healed properly, or was reinjured.  Back in Seattle my trainer encouraged me to retire her in 2009, and though I had my misgivings, I complied, and sent her to a facility in Sacramento. The reports were never encouraging; she lived alone in a 20 by 20 pipe stall and they hadn't been able to find her a friend to live with. In the summer of 2011, we were leaving the west coast and I wouldn't leave Nacari in California. We shipped her east to join our other horse at the new barn in New York.

She arrived with a long mane, strong bare feet, with a wild defiance in her eye and none of the ground manners she had known when she left. We started her on some light work on the walker, to see if she was sound, and she was. Over the next four years we found that real ring work was always too much for her, but she had a great attitude about riding outside, especially with another horse. She was a serviceably sound horse for that job.

It brought me tremendous joy to be able to spend many good days with this horse whose show career had ended much too soon. On reflection, retiring her at a barn far away and not seeing her for a whole year, she must have felt abandoned. I saw her look of recognition when she greeted my youngest son in New York. She groomed his hair in just the way she always had when she towered over him because he was four and so was she; we are her people as much as she is our horse. Retirement far away was truly a mistake. My mistake.

She had but two days of ill health over our four years at the last barn in New York; one when she got anaplasmosis from a tick bite. An alert staff member  noticed that she was especially quiet in turnout and thought to take her temperature: it was dangerously high. The other was on a December day two years ago. I finished riding her and she seemed agitated and unsettled. When I put her in her stall she turned and looked at her belly. She pooped, and curled her lip, and tensed her belly muscles, looking for just like anyone with bad stomach cramps. We called the vet.

Colic is unarguably the leading medical cause of death in horses. It refers to a range of gut-related conditions, and can be caused by horses not drinking enough water, or consuming sand, or bad hay, or weather, or change of feed, or you know, Tuesday. Some barns keep a supply of banamine and administer it when a horse looks seriously colicky, right around the some moment that they send someone to call the vet.
In this case, Nacari pooped and pooped until it was liquid diarrhea, and the vet pronounced it colitis and not colic. She responded to meds, recovered, and we pretty much forgot about it.

But when you change barns, you watch, because changes in weather or feed can upset a horse, and anything that upsets a horse can make it colic.

Saturday we were on our way to the new barn when I got the call from the manager, saying that Nacari was looking colicky, they'd given her banamine, and they had called the vet. It speaks highly of staff that they took the time to call me even though they already knew I was on my way over, and only minutes away; many barns would have waited for an owner to arrive.

The horse was visibly distressed. Her groom F. was walking her outside on the grass. Nacari was curling her lip and pausing to kick at her stomach; sometimes the cramps in her belly were so strong her hind legs would buckle under her. The vet was an hour away.

I stood with the barn manager and told her that though I love this horse and I have owned her fifteen years, she is not a candidate for an expensive belly surgery. This is my decision. I have other horses. I have a great emotional attachment to the horse, but the recovery from a big colic operation requires many months of careful rehab, and it seems unfair to ask it of a horse that's not in great shape to begin with. Perhaps another owner would make a different decision. Perhaps even my husband, who has authorized, watched, and paid for a belly surgery on a mare of a similar age. I told this to the barn manager because in a crisis, a real crisis, where the vet has come and I have to choose between putting my horse on a trailer to go to the hospital or putting that animal to sleep, I might need some help sticking to the right decision.

The vet on call was on her way. She suggested another, stronger drug than banamine, but only if the horse seemed not to be responding. She was not responding. The other drug was tried. F. continued to walk her, back and forth on the grass. The mare flung herself onto the grass a couple of times.

F. brought the horse inside in anticipation of the vet coming. We took the hay out of her stall. The vet on the phone said that if she'd lie quietly and not thrash that it would be okay to let Nacari lie down in her stall. They let her lay down in her stall. She looked exhausted. Were the drugs starting to work, I wondered. Was the light in her eye returning, and the panic leaving?

People die. Cats die. Tiny mice die. Dogs die. Hamsters die. Giant whales die. Horses also die.

When you get a horse, you don’t think of it ever being sick or injured or dying. You imagine the happy times you’ll spend together. The riding in the sun, the ribbons in the show ring, the quiet moments brushing in the crossties or grazing on a grassy hill. You don’t imagine the clammy hours you’ll spend holding your horse for the vet while she puts in an IV. You fail to picture the thousand-plus vet bills for sutures when they get kicked by a pasture pal. You pretend you won’t ever have to tell a vet, “This horse is not a candidate for surgery.”

When you get a horse you don't think about it ever being lame or sick or having to decide about its quality of life issues.

People don't talk about their horses being lame or sick. Especially do not talk about their horses’ injuries on social media, where it’s all birthdays, graduations, new babies, and political outrage filling your timeline. Horses go lame and they do get sick. Maybe it’s superstition, or decorum. Few talk about it.

Certainly, the health records of performance horses are a closely guarded secret, because if an animal is ever for sale, it will be presented to the world as never having had an off day. Nacari is no longer a performance horse. She was bred to be a performance horse, sold to us at a premium price, and we put what we felt was all the best training into her that money could buy.

Many performance horses trickle down through a series of owners, as their physical capabilities diminish they are sold for less money to less and less experienced riders, ending their days teaching beginners to walk and trot, going around in a big oval in a lesson program. Older horses are great to learn on. We are stuck holding the bag with Nacari, being her first and last owners.

By the time the vet arrived, Nacari was finally showing some relief from the drugs. Her vitals were good, and the vet put on a long glove, lubed up, and performed a rectal exam; she didn't find anything. 

The facilities manager was called in to put some hardware in the ceiling, and he brought a ladder and a drill, and drilled the pilot hole and put a screw eye in the ceiling. Nacari looked slightly alarmed but did nothing more than raise her head. Next they put a long tube up her nose and down into her gut and pumped about a liter of mineral oil in. "This'll be through in about 18-20 hours," said the vet, interrupted by the horse’s coughing and farting. When the oil was in, she pulled out the long tube as quickly as she could. The barn manager went to get a clipboard to write down the vet’s instructions.

The vet prepared to put an IV catheter in Nacari's neck while I held her. First she shaved a square patch where the big jugular vein runs under the skin. Then she injected two spots with a topical antiseptic, one the square patch for the catheter and another anchor point a few inches away. She made two braids in the horse’s mane securing it with adhesive tape.

The vet injected the long IV needle and secured the catheter in several places with a needle and strong black thread. Then, her phone rang. The vet was on call until Tuesday. The first call was from the office. There were people buying a horse in Kentucky with an urgent question for her. She said she'd call back when she could. She hung up, started the next stitch. The phone rang again. It was someone else from the office, with the same message. She said that she would call back when she was finished. She tied off the stitch.

Her phone rang two more times, regarding the same emergency, 900 miles away. I'm not sure what sort of veterinary emergency requires a person to call a vet who is already handling another emergency in another state. I wondered aloud, and with a full coating of sarcasm, if they have veterinarians in Kentucky. The vet seemed to appreciate my query.

The catheter was attached to a pair of bags of fluid hanging from the ceiling, one with calcium and one without. I stood holding my horse long past the time when I was free to let her go. Someone had to tell me I could leave her. She wandered to the corner where her hay had been before, and ate whatever scraps she could find. I hung up her halter and lead rope. She gave me an angry look.

The vet cleaned up. The barn manager took notes on flushing the catheter and swapping one of the empty bags of fluid for the third full one. We took turns holding that bag; at 12 pounds it felt like a baby, just a few weeks old. Or a floppy cat maybe. The mare would get half sized portions of food, twice as often for the next 24 hours.

She looked like she was feeling better already.

I checked on her the next day. The catheter was out. She'd spent the morning eating grass, safely rolling in mud, tossing her head and enjoying the drop in temperature. Her groom was cleaning her legs in the wash stall. I had to cajole her into an ears-forward photo, playing peek-a-boo until I got the one I wanted. But I can see she is feeling better, and she can see that so am I.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Closing and Opening

We saw plenty of houses with tired kitchens and cheap windows. We toured one house with a minimally outfitted kitchen but four giant bedrooms and seven full bathrooms. We visited an American-flag-flying Republicans’ house, with a sign to the Elephants’ Path through the garden. It was another somewhat neglected house with an immaculate barn where we realized we had already seen the house we wanted to make an offer on. My husband and our good-humored real estate agent and I stood on the circular driveway of this house owned by nice people who were out in the barn, neglecting their downspouts and grout but taking exemplary care of their horses while we somewhat guiltily plotted to make an offer to Mrs. Gardenwinkle.

Mrs. Gardenwinkle countered, and we countered again. Finally, she came back with the amount the Bacon Provider expected her to sell for in the first place, and we had a deal. The next question was could we close by the 15th. Somehow there was yes after yes. 

The inspection was a long day. The house is 30-ish years old, and many of the systems of a house (AC, windows, boiler, well, water heater, roof) have a 30 year lifespan. Every house I looked at had the same boiler, it seemed, in house after house. The septic guys showed up to test the septic system. There was a lot of digging and standing around. I wrote checks.

The inspector checks boiler maintenance 
We hired a real estate attorney because that’s what people do here. We have also bought and sold houses in other places, and there are regional differences regarding the closings. On the west coast, papers get signed and exchanged and you might not even meet the sellers. In Vermont, you hire lawyers and have a formal closing, in a conference room, with the title company, a banker, your lawyers, their lawyer, buyers and sellers all in attendance. Since that was our first house purchase, in Vermont, way back in the late 80s, it seemed strange and intimidating but normal. Strange in that adulthood was mysterious to us then, and normal in that we’d never bought a house before so whatever these people said was the regular thing to do became the regular thing to do. At that first closing, one of the heirs to the estate complained about the wilted flowers on the coffee table. “Get these out of here,” she said. And added, by way of explanation, “I can’t STAND dead flowers.”

As I recall they weren’t really even very dead, just a little wilted, and a bewildered bank employee did the honors, after having the vase thrust upon her.

Our New York closing was held at the office of our attorney, in the upstairs of a Victorian house on a neat street in the shady village of Mount K., in Westchester. We arrived after the real estate agents, Mrs. Gardenwinkle and her son, who was there to act as her attorney, but before the representative of the title company arrived. Mrs. Gardenwinkle recommended having a son grow up to be an attorney.  Mrs. Gardenwinkle's son rolled his eyes. I did not allow myself to be distracted by the thought of any of my children going to law school. 

Our attorney’s conference room was cozy and prettily lit, with red walls and a collection of distractingly gorgeous 20th century design posters, and between those posters and his dogs wrestling at my feet most of the time we were there, I didn't have much of an idea what was happening. Everyone knew everyone else, and spoke at length of mutual acquaintances, sailing, pending legislation, golf, and local board planning commission gossip. The title company representative breezed in at last, with long decorated nails and blow-dried straight hair, an animal print blouse and cleavage, injecting a bit of The Other Westchester into this bland, white crowd. My husband signed some things, and passed them to me, and I signed them and passed them to the title company representative. I produced the Big Bank Check I’d had prepared in advance, and wrote some more checks.

Mrs. Gardenwinkle, who celebrated her birthday the week before, is exactly my mother’s age. She passed the last set of keys across the table, and reminded me that I have her cell phone number in case I have any questions. I realized without fanfare that we owned a house again, after four years of waiting.

On the way out, we all shuffled, still chatting with the satisfaction of the happy closing of a deal, through the attorney’s assistant’s office and descending the narrow stairs to the small, gravel parking lot. Our cars were a mix of Volvos and BMWs. Mrs. Gardenwinkle was parked next to me, and she told me that she had owned the same model car as my beloved wagon, but had recently switched to the sedan instead, which she regretted.  We pulled out of the lot last, and drove directly to the new house.

On the counter, Mrs. Gardenwinkle had left us a list of all her utilities, the numbers for her housekeeper and her yard guy and a large folder, with contracts from the alarm company, roofers, trash collectors, AC service companies and all the rest. She even included the plant tags from her roses, with photographs of them each in bloom. My mother never grew roses, but if she did, she would have kept a carefully organized file, documenting their needs and accomplishments, and given this information to their next caretaker. I wonder if she would have agreed with me that Mrs. Gardenwinkle shared her mother’s taste in wallpaper.