Old McDonald

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Todd Wyatt heard my stress. It was a couple of weeks before Saratoga and I was feeling the pinch, the impending metamorphosis of farm life to city life, leaving my wife, my son, my farm, my routine for the great Saratoga stakeout – 35 issues in 46 days. Overwhelmed and understaffed, everything will change.

Wyatt knows the feeling, “You’ll be up there for a few weeks, right around sales time, and say, ‘Man, I miss that farm.’ “

It’s now sales time (or just past), and yes, I could use a day or two on the farm . . .

Wednesday, March 21, 2012.

The phone rings, early, I hear Annie say hello from our bedroom, upstairs. I slide my laptop to a close and reflexively walk toward the door. I know the call. Help can’t make it. I don’t need to hear the excuse, the reason, the trauma or tragedy. I know it means my day is shot. I’m a farmer today.

I open the front door. Fog. Dew. Damp.

I slide my left foot and then slide my right foot into Annie’s red Hunter Boots, the bump on my left foot bulges the rubber edge. At least my feet won’t get wet.

Walk to the barn, open the loft door for O’Malley and Duchess. They’re glad to see me, cat food still in their bowl. Down to the barn where Eli greets me with his trilling wail. “Hello, Eli.”

Baaaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa.

I slide his door open and walk straight toward him, he hesitates, shakes his head, skitters. “It’s OK, Eli. Hello, Eli. Hello, Eli.” I get down on one knee and look away (it’s the Monty Roberts method of goatology) then he comes over, hesitates long enough to slide the rope shank around his neck, again, he shakes his head. I move him to the center stall, renovated for a goat, he leaps from the ground, on top of the plastic muck basket, rope still around his neck, his feet skitter across the plastic and he’s able to catch his balance. Then he looks at me, shakes his head.

Baaaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa. Baaaaaaa.

Cats are out. Goat is in. Now the horses. Eight of them, all smarter than I. Let’s think about this, six need to come in to eat and get ridden.

Bucket of feed. Halter and shank. Across the front field. I can’t see any of them. The fog is deep and thick. I can see 5 feet of air from the ground, that’s it.

“Hey, boys. Hellooooo.”

Like they’re going to come running or better yet, let themselves out of the gate and into the correct stalls.

Finally I see them at the other end of the field. I see them look at me. The first and only one to respond is Teddy. The great old soul, Three Steps Ahead. He ambles toward me, happy to see me. He buries his head deep in the red plastic bucket, rummaging for a mouthful of feed. I slide the halter over his nose and slap the neck strap over the top part of his neck. We walk toward the barn, his gait measured and consistent. Mine too, I guess.

One down. Five to go.

Back across the field to the corner. Blue weaves over the fence, still entranced by the horses across Snake Hill Road. Kiss walks toward me and goes for a bite of feed, then Under Shirt, barges between us, knocking the bucket out of my hand and it’s a scrum, I kick at Under Shirt’s face, far from making contact, but enough to get the bucket back into strategic hands. I slide Kiss’ halter on, then Blue’s. Two more caught. Under Shirt scoots away every time I get near him. Just a game.

Kiss and Blue march across the field, both alternating strikes to the bucket, I allow them a few bites, just so I can catch them tomorrow. Under Shirt swoops in from behind, Blue scoots forward, the ultimate victim, always picked on, always the target. I slide Kiss through the gate first, then Blue, then pull it shut before Under Shirt, who now wants to come in, gets out.

Three down.

I go back to the field to find Under Shirt. I hear him, but can’t see him. I give up.

Border, White Man, Marscaponi and Treasure Map have congregated in the dirt patch at the top of end of the back field. Give them 15 acres of green grass and they’ll stand in the mud hole in the corner. City slickers.

At least I can catch them.

I slide a halter over Marscaponi’s head, deflect a cheap shot from Treasure Map and get Marscaponi through the gate, slamming it behind his tail and before Border’s shoulder. White Man ambles away, uninterested, knowing he’s staying where he is, the great loner.

I make another trek to catch Treasure Map, still angry, he settles in the corner stall.

Five down. Where’s Under Shirt?

Another hike to the far end of the field. I can hear him. I can’t see him.

Alone in the fog, he allows me to catch him, ‘Where have you been all my life?’

Six down.

I’ve fed them as they’ve come in and now they’re occupied, appeased.

I trudge to the backfield and feed White Man and Border. The good soldiers.

Six in, two out, all eating and content at least for a few minutes. Eli’s still mad at me.