Moose River Farm Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Never Never Land

        Good Evening,
        Last Thursday, my nineteenth school year came to a close and by 2:00 pm my classroom was purged of all remnants left behind by my fifth graders.  The room's contents, organized and put away, will now remain inert for ten weeks until my next group of students arrives in the fall.  In the meantime, my life has switched gears so I can focus on the barn in my backyard where I ride, teach riding and provide full care for the horses and goats who live in it. Its a great way to spend the summer months, immersed in my passion while sharing it with adults and children from a wide range of experience and skill.  The barn hums with activity from 8:00 in the morning until noon.  Every vehicle's arrival is escorted into the driveway by a chorus of barking dogs announcing the obvious.  From time to time two enormous truckloads of hay, (over 500 bales at a time), ascend the driveway to stock the hayloft for the coming winter.  
         By noon the horses are resting comfortably in their stalls where they doze lazily while hiding from the heat and the bugs outside.  At the end of the day I drop into bed and fall asleep to the sound of horses munching hay under the stars.
       From time to time the sound of a bugle can be heard faintly through the trees from our neighbor, Adirondack Woodcraft Camp. 
Some of my riding students are campers from AWC.  The camp graciously allows interested campers to participate in my lesson program.  I love MRF's association with camp because it brings back so many wonderful memories, (and heartbreaking ones), from my own childhood camp experience.  In today's excerpt from Finding My Way to Moose River Farm, I thrive as a 'Horseman' at Camp Equinita.  
Horse Camp
        The following summer, my mother, who had spent many summers of her childhood at Girl Scout camp, sent me to a riding camp in the Endless Mountain region of New Milford, Pennsylvania, just south of Binghamton, New York.  Camp Equinita was the sister camp of the well established Camp Susquehanna for boys.  Both camps were owned and run by a husband and wife who spent most of the year teaching at the George School in Bucks County, PA.  Their oldest daughter was an up and coming three day event rider and their camp had a wonderful reputation for real competitive riding.  The camp was tastefully sprawled out on the top of a mountain with breathtaking views that I have never forgotten thirty-five years later.  From the lush riding fields and outside hunt course to the quaint waterfront required several miles of walking per day.  Since the barn was at the bottom of the mountain and required three trips a day up and back leading the horses on foot, we campers were kept in great physical shape.
It was exciting to think that I would be with horses every day for an entire month and I would be assigned one of my very own to care for, daily.  I arrived for the second session that began at the end of July and lasted for four weeks.  Two hours after my parents dropped me off and settled me into my tent, I was introduced to my assigned horse.
 His name was Never Never Land, a great big full bodied bay Sabino Paint cross with four high white stockings and a bald face.  He was beautiful and for me it was love at first sight.  Every morning I was responsible for fetching Never from the fifteen acre field, where he spent the night with the entire camp herd, and leading him to his stall for breakfast.  While he ate grain and hay, I groomed and checked him over from his nightly turnout. 
It was at Equinita that it occurred to me that not everybody who loved to ride horses was as devoted to caring for them.  Many of the campers possessed impressive riding skills due to the expensive training that they engaged in throughout the year.  But that training did not necessarily include or encourage connecting with the horse once the rider had dismounted.  This was not true of every camper, particularly the younger girls, but it surprised me how many of the really good riders were simply not interested in participating in the daily care of the horses. 
The younger girls, aged 8 to 11 still appeared to be obsessed with horses, preferring to hang out at the barn more than any other venue on the enormous camp property.  One of the eleven year olds who frequented the barn grew up to become accomplished actress Laura Lynney.
It was the older girls who seemingly became more impressed with the boy campers and less enamored with the equines that I found difficult to connect with.  They spent a lot of energy trying to sneak away with the boys into the woods after Taps initiating all kinds of disturbing rumors that were whispered through camp the next morning.
Luckily, two of my tent-mates, Pamela Narins from New York City and Carolyn Morgan from Bucks County, Pennsylvania did share an all consuming interest in horses with me.  The three of us spent the month of August thoroughly engaged with horses. We never complained about barn chores and always tried to extend our time with horses at the expense of missing an arts and crafts activity or swim lesson to do so.
Although I cared for Never daily, he was not necessarily my mount everyday in a lesson.  There were others that I rode including Cocktail, Majorette, Senior Prom and New Moon, to mention just a few.  My four week camp experience flew by quickly and all too soon it was time to say an emotional good bye to Never as well as all the other horses.  
There once live a girl named Anne Tall, (my maiden name)
Whose horse lived in the very next stall
She took care of Never and loved him forever
And not once did she off of him fall!
by Pamela Narins, 1975

Friday, June 22, 2012

Windy and Spy

        Good Evening,
        One of the consequences of owning horses is that they live very long lives in relation to more typical pets such as dogs and cats; on average about 30 years.  When you consider how human lives and circumstances change unexpectedly in that amount of time, it is more common for a horse to have more than one owner rather than one home in its lifetime.  Perhaps that is why the 18 year relationship between my two Quarter horses, Windy and Spy, ended with such an extraordinary display of devotion and acceptance.  
        I was so touched by Windy's reaction to Spy's death, that I decided to preserve the images with photographs.  Four years later, after Windy's euthanasia, I wrote an article, (Grief, Acceptance and Appreciation, Practical Horseman, June, 2011), about what I, (along with several others), witnessed on the day when these two bonded souls parted.  The photographs were never published with the article.  Therefore, I would like to share them here where I hope you will see them as images of hope rather than images of death.   
        For me they are proof that horses possess a soul and an uncanny ability to accept loss.  Now that both Windy and Spy are gone, I like to imagine them together, watching over Moose River Farm from Heaven above.  
Windy and Spy
        Quietly, we walked Spy out to the field with Windy in tow.  My husband, Rod, held Windy while we positioned Spy near his burial site.  Our patient vet waited through more hugs, kisses and tears.  Then, Spy slipped quickly and quietly out of my embrace to the ground.  The last thing he heard was a chorus of ‘I love you’.  When he was gone, my two friends and I commented on how beautiful he was.  His chestnut coat shone like polished copper and his two hind socks glistened like chrome.  As his mane blew gently in the breeze the rest of his body remained perfectly still. 
        At this point, Rod released Windy, who had been waiting anxiously about twenty feet away.  Windy galloped over to the body and stood between Spy’s front and hind legs.  Then he lowered his muzzle to Spy’s barrel and remained for several minutes with his head bowed.  He seemed to be absorbing Spy’s death as if he needed it to sink into his skin and penetrate his organs for understanding.  It was peaceful, it was perfect and it explained so much about the powers of acceptance that animals have.  This scene lasted for over one hour.  Fascinated by it, we watched to see what would happen next.  Occasionally, Windy left Spy to graze briefly before returning to the same spot between Spy’s front and back legs, where once again he took up the vigil.  Eventually, Windy laid himself down near Spy, quietly without stress.  In fact through the whole ordeal Windy never acted fretful.  He was clearly at peace, as was Spy, as was I.  
        Later that afternoon, Windy was returned to his small paddock.  From the fence he watched as my husband worked the backhoe and buried Spy’s body.  I checked on Windy often and never once witnessed any sign of stress.  He watched quietly but deliberately for the duration of the excavation.
        As the months passed, the void that was the absence of Spy in the barn began to heal.  There are no regrets for the decision to end his life.  There is a deeper understanding of the acceptance of his death, thanks to Windy.  But most of all there is a greater appreciation for those who are still living in my barn and the memories that will fill the future.  Finally, I am more appreciative of the privilege and the gift of having horses in my life. 
 Windy and Spy were constant companions for 18 years.
 After Spy was gone, Windy stood over his body to absorb the loss.

 For more than one hour, Windy held a vigil near Spy's body.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day

           Happy Father's Day,
This weekend I am reminded of three fathers who have touched my life.  My own father has appeared twice on the blog, (Summer’s Promise and Realizations).  Years after his death, my mother was fortunate to marry another wonderful man named David who graciously brings her to visit me in the Adirondacks every summer.  The third of these great dads was Big Rod, (my Rod’s father), a generous man who lived quietly between summer in the Adirondacks and winter in Florida during the two decades that I knew him.
Several times a year, we received a box from Rod's Dad that contained the latest back issues of Fine Woodworking and Fine Home Building.  In addition, there was always an assortment of newspaper and magazine clippings about animals, (particularly horses), that Big Rod had collected over the months between packages.  Like a greeting card, these tokens expressed that he thought enough about me to take the time to clip and accumulate the items until enough had been collected to justify the postage.  In addition, a whole collection of decorative plates arrived from time to time over the years.  Each one vividly depicting an animal theme by artist Bill Bell.  Big Rod’s thoughtful generosity was perhaps his greatest legacy.  In today’s excerpt from Finding My Way to Moose River Farm, we say farewell to this wonderful man and remember him fondly where his ashes lay scattered for eternity.


 From: A Streak of Gains and Losses
Sadly, Big Rod passed away from congestive heart failure within the first week of our move to MRF. His death was not unexpected and we were grateful for being fairly well settled before we had to travel to Florida.  A good friend named Lisa Bolton agreed to stay in the house and care for our animals while we were away.  Her wonderful attitude and sense of humor made it easy for me to organize my lists of pet care quickly and leave the following Sunday morning.
The weather in Florida was sunny and warm for the three days that we visited Sarasota.  Rod’s sisters had all gathered with various members of their own families to pay their respects to this generous man whose greatest sacrifice was made to his country as a bombardier during World War II.  No one knows what demons haunted him after the war, but he managed to prosper and care for Rachel and his family until the very end.  Of course I knew him best at Sunny Cliff on Raquette Lake from June through September.  For four months he tended his huge and bountiful vegetable garden, nurtured his apple trees and puttered about the property in a flannel shirt and an old pair of shorts or work pants.
In the earlier years of our marriage, Rod’s dad played golf twice a week in Thendara and Inlet.  As his health, particularly his breathing, became compromised he withdrew from those social activities, preferring to remain at camp.  Sunny Cliff is designed for young people and as Big Rod’s emphysema made it difficult for him to get around, he stopped coming to Raquette and stayed in Florida.  Sadly, he never got to see Rod’s completed masterpiece.  However, he was able to visit the farm in the early phase of construction just after we acquired the property.
The following summer my Rod's sisters and some of their children sprinkled Big Rod's remains in various locations around Sunny Cliff.  Having climbed so many mountains as a child while attending camp, he never did make the hike up West Mountain, (due west of Sunny Cliff), claiming that the only way he would ever get up there would be after he passed away.  Dutifully and lovingly, his remains were carried up the mountain so that he could gaze upon Sucker Brook forever. 
In the 'old house' at Sunny Cliff and before electricity became available, (Big), Rod spent his evenings reading under a kerosene lamp and listening to music on his A.M. radio. 

Rachel and, (Big), Rod Phinney

 Adam and Eve

 Noah's Ark

In The Beginning
(Can you find T-Rex?)

Santa Paws

Friday, June 15, 2012

No More Pigs, (Fiona's Story)


        Good Evening,
        Our second pig, Fiona appears in Finding My Way to Moose River Farm only during the ‘real time’ prefaces and conclusions of Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Her story will ultimately be told in the sequel but for now I thought you might enjoy learning a bit about Fiona and how she arrived at MRF after Rod and I had decided on no more pigs. 
        Our first pig, Noah, lived until the age of ten.  Sadly, he spent our first winter at MRF in a state of slow decline and passed away in early June of 2005.  Although not exactly friendly towards all strangers, he was very devoted to me, allowing me to snuggle close to him until the very end.  For more than a year we lived ‘pig-free’ on only the memories of Noah as we established life on our new farm. 
        The following November I attended the Syracuse Invitational Horse Show with a few of my riding students and friends.  Naturally, I found myself drawn to a petting zoo among the vendors in the expo hall of the On Center.  Among the assortment of miniature donkeys, horses and goats, was a tiny pot belly piglet.  Reaching over the low fence to pet her, I was suddenly overwhelmed with all of the good Noah memories; not the ones that included all the clothing he had destroyed while incorporating stray socks, shirts and underwear into his ‘nest’ or the abrasive wear on the fine finish of our furniture after he scratched himself against it.  No, I was overcome by Noah's sweetness as a tiny pig who ‘umphed’ contentedly while snuggling in my arms.  The Noah, who grazed on our lawn and wallowed in the wet sand of our small beach during hot summer days.  The 200 pound Noah who Rod hoisted onto the sofa to lie in my arms, (as baby Noah had done 180 pounds earlier), providing comfort for me, the evening after Ludie, (our ancient Dachshund), was euthanized.  The Noah who went for boat rides to Sunny Cliff with us on summer Sunday afternoons, and the Noah who snacked on blueberries with Mishka during our walks on the far side of Raquette Lake.  
        The little piglet that I was stroking was not for sale but the attendant at the petting zoo just happened to have a litter of pot belly piglets that would be weaned in another week or two.  After the horse show I returned home to break the news to Rod that I wanted another pig! 
        “No,” he said emphatically.  “We agreed that Noah was it.  No more pigs!”
        “Yes, but I have changed my mind and think that a pig would be the perfect addition to the farm,” I reasoned. 
        “No.”
         I can’t say that Rod relented because since Fiona’s arrival he has, on more than one occasion, (particularly when she is scratching herself on the finished woodwork), reminded me that he didn't want another pig. 
         However, just before Thanksgiving, I drove south into Madison County to pick up our 6 week old piglet.  Like Noah, she was tiny and adorable!  But unlike Noah, she had never been handled until this very day when she was chased around the large stall, (that she inhabited with her mother and five siblings), grabbed by the breeder and stuffed into a dog crate that I had brought with me.  During the entire drama, all of the little piglets screamed in distress as one of their own was plucked from the family and disappeared out the stall door, never to be seen by any of them again. 
         At the back of the crate she cowered while bracing herself on all fours.  Her eyes, wide with terror broke my heart.  She had no idea what was happening to her, who I was or what existed outside of the stall she had lived in since birth. 
         Originally, I thought I would name her Vanessa, because it was elegant and so lady like.  Driving back to Old Forge, I rolled the name back and forth over my tongue directing it to the terrified passenger in the dog crate.
         “Vanessa,” I sang to her.  “Hello Vanessa, my little piggly.”   
          There was no sound coming from the crate.  I tried to imagine  what she might be doing in the crate, and worried that all the stress of leaving her family so abruptly might have killed her!  But just when I was about to pull over and check, I heard her change position and ‘urmp’ quietly. 
         Meanwhile, the name Vanessa, just wasn't fitting as well as I had hoped it would.  By the time we passed through Utica and began heading North on Rt. 12, I had tried other names on the tiny piglet.  ‘Vera’, ‘Winona’ and ‘Lucy’ didn’t fit her either.  But, when the name ‘Fiona’ fell out of my mouth, she was christened immediately!
 Fiona was a big hit with my students when she spent the day in our classroom shortly after her arrival at MRF.



The irony of this little girl, named Fern is not lost on those of us who have read Charlotte's Web!


Both Fern and Fiona have grown up quite a bit!
Fiona is a gracious greeter during the holidays.
Fiona listens with great interest to the story of the Three Little Pigs.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Memories of Africa

        Good Morning,
        While selecting and organizing my animal stories for the book, Finding My Way to Moose River Farm, I initially included the incredible trip to Africa that my mother and I shared back in August, 1994, (18 years ago).  When it was time to begin writing about it, I pulled out my travel journal and quickly discovered that the adventure was a book in itself.  I felt that it might interrupt the flow of my journey to the Adirondacks and decided right then that I probably have enough material to write a sequel that will include all of the 'parallel' stories that just didn't fit into the linear structure of the initial volume. 
         Despite the constant turmoil and unrest in many African nations, the wildlife continues to exist and adapt, relatively peacefully, through annual cycles of extreme drought and flood.  Our trip began in Harare, Zimbabwe, a metropolis that we explored with eager anticipation of our travels into the Okavango Delta in Botswana, (Zimbabwe's neighbor to the southwest).  There, our accommodations transformed from hotel room to luxury tent complete with hot water and other plumbing conveniences. 
        For three days we remained at Pom Pom, a remote camp 1 and 1/2 hours by plane from the nearest hospital.  The camp only accommodated 18 guests at a time.  In the morning we loaded up two Land Rovers which exited the camp in opposite directions to explore the Delta's unique terrain and thriving wildlife.  We never saw the other vehicle, (or any other vehicles), during our three to four hour excursions in the bush.  
        What we did see were impala, water buck, giraffe, zebras, kudu, elephants, vultures, lions, fish eagles, warthogs, (one of my favorites), vervet monkeys, lilac breasted rollers, and many other incredible species.  In the evenings we sat on the shore of one of the Delta tributaries around a roaring fire and discussed our sightings of the day with guests from the other vehicle. 
        Before my trip, I was warned that when you visit Africa you believe you are 'quenching your thirst' or satisfying a desire for the experience.  But be prepared because a piece of you will be left behind and once you arrive home you will immediately begin making plans to go back and get it.  

Harare, Zimbabwe is a long way from the Adirondacks.
Mom and I arrived at Camp Pom Pom with great anticipation.
The Pom Pom staff welcomed us.
When the lions roared at night, the sound inside of our tent was indescribable.
Warthogs were among my favorite African characters.  A year later we adopted our pig Noah.
The Okavango Delta is just above the Kalahari Desert.  Morning temps. dipped into the 30's.  Thankfully, tea was delivered right to our tent.
'Bacon' was a frequent visitor to the camp after she was orphaned years before.  Despite her luckless start, she returned frequently with her husband, 'Sausage' and their three babies.
The mukuro is an essential mode of transportation in the Okavango Delta.
Yup, that's a lion.
Horses with stripes.
They appeared out of nowhere and entertained us with such grace.
Bonetswe or 'Bee's' knowledge of animals was second to none.  
How can we argue about the presence of 'soul' in our animal kin?
Don't be fooled by their lack of trimmed figures.  They are a force to be reckoned with.
Sentinels.
Mom and I are standing in front of Victoria Falls.
Rod's mom, Rachel and sister, Karen joined Mom and me for the second half of the trip.
Thankfully, vultures keep the African landscape picked clean.
Right out of a storybook is the Baobab Tree.
Soul?
No comment necessary for her.

        
         

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mixing Business with Pleasure

        Written on Thursday, June 7th, 2012
        Good Evening,
        Tonight I am exhausted!  Its been a long day.  But my heart is humming with the memories from the day spent here at Moose River Farm with 14 fifth graders and a handful of dedicated adult helpers who cooked, served and led horses endlessly through two enthusiastic rounds of pony rides. 
         After a challenging year that has included timing memorized math facts, expanding vocabulary, becoming acquainted with our founding fathers, and dissecting owl pellets, I was excited to introduce the students to my other life.  They have heard a variety of tales and anecdotes over the last ten months.  How Rosemary, (an iguana), uses the dog door, but Huxley, (a Dachshund), can't seem to figure it out.  How Fiona, (a pig), cleans up under the bird feeder while a slate colored junko perches among her bristles to eat the seeds that have fallen from the feeder onto her back.  How Hayden, (a long haired Dachshund), takes a daily dip in the pond hoping to catch the enormous frog who has laid hundreds of eggs there.  The students have heard accounts of bad goats who nibble on tree trunks and good goats who accompany Rod, the dogs and me on hikes in the woods.  
         So with great anticipation we boarded a small yellow school bus at 9:30 in the morning and headed out for a truly magical day.  By the time the little bus arrived to take us back to school the students had engaged in many of my favorite MRF activities including horseback riding and hiking with Rosemary, the goats and dogs.  Two mothers prepared our lunch of grilled hot dogs, tossed and macaroni salad that we savored while lounging around the backyard.  In the afternoon my teacher's aide, Biz and I sat on lawn chairs marveling at the cooperative way in which the students organized themselves into a game of kickball that they played in the Indoor arena.  The game lasted for almost an hour with no heated confrontations once they decided among themselves not to keep score.  
        Back in our classroom the next morning, the students happily accepted a writing and illustrating task that required them to reflect on our wonderful day.  I hope you enjoy the images below that now serve as memories from one of my best professional experiences; mixing business with pleasure.  
Photos by: Michele deCamp and Rod Phinney 

















 “This was the best field trip ever!” Abby

 “When I got to the barn, and was about to ride Tango, I had a mixture of feelings, like excited, happy and nervous.” Aaron

 “Horses and animals are amazing creatures.” Blake

 “It was cool because we got to see a river and a lean-to.” Bradley

“It was the best day ever!” Brooke

 “Learning about Mrs. Phinney’s childhood growing up with horses helped me learn two things from Mrs. Phinney: 1. She has the most beautiful and sweetest horses ever. 2. Live life to the fullest and never give up.” Caitlin

 “I also liked the hike because we saw lots of cool things and we even saw some lean-tos.” Charlie
I enjoyed riding Ben and I had a great time.” Chloe

 
 “Riding Tango made me feel like Little Joe Cartwright.” David
 “I played with Lilly the goat and had fun.” Kevin

“I have to say my favorite part was riding those strong, majestic, beautiful horses.”  Nick

 “We rode horses and I rode an awesome horse named, Spirit.” Paul
“I liked when we went on the hike and I also liked Rosemary.” Thailer