Saturday, August 11, 2007


Yesterday I pushed aside weeds grown too tall and pulled the largest of the beets. Sitting on the porch steps, I lopped off their green tops, setting the youngest and most delicate aside for the freezer. Next came lots of washing and then, while I prepared the "pickle", simmering. Once cooked, the skins rub off and the remaining tops fall away, and they're ready to slice and put in jars, top up with the cooked vinegar/sugar/cinnamon, allspice mixture, cover with lids and their screw-on bands, and put into the water-bath canner. As I write this, there are 15 pints of pickled beets waiting to be labeled and put on shelves in the cellar.

Today I pulled the garlic. It sits in the sun, drying, soon to be stored away.

The corn is ripening; there are a couple of red tomatoes, chard and kale are keeping us in fresh greens, new carrots are being enjoyed.

This is August in the North Country.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Horse Crazy

I can’t remember when there weren’t horses in my life. I loved them always, from the time I could walk, and the evidence is still stuck to a pair of tiny brown and white leather saddle shoes my mother packed away with other souvenirs of my childhood. Most mothers would be loath to save horse manure, but my mother wasn’t like most.

In the evenings and on weekends, we would visit all the local stables, attend all the horse shows and come to know every local horse person - and horse - we encountered. I knew no fear of these big animals and lived for long Sunday afternoons when I’d sit on the hood of our old Chevy with its bumper up tight to some corral fence, watching the Pleasure Horse or Stock Horse classes and the Flag or Pick-up Race. I never tired of what someone once quipped was “a bunch of horses asses riding a bunch of horses asses” go around and around those rings.

When winter ended the outdoor riding season and darkness came early, our small family would eat dinner and then huddle close to the radio for episodes of Straight Arrow and his golden horse, Fury. My father read Red Ryder comics to me and then Will James’ book, Smoky the Cowhorse. We found two indoor riding rings to visit, quenching my thirst until spring.

By the time I was four, I had a “job” riding ponies. There was a circular, double-fenced enclosure about two miles from our house, and above its white painted gate a sign proclaimed PONY RIDES - 25¢. For a quarter (no small fee in those days), a kid could be put up on either Jingles or Trigger and - with the pony on a lead-rope - given three turns around the ring. My father took me there often, and we quickly endeared ourselves to the proprietor. At first I must have been led around, but soon I was off the lead and galloping. Kids passing by saw the commotion and begged their parents to stop their cars and let them ride, and when they did, I would have to relinquish my mount. Of course, the ponies walked sedately (and tiredly) with these “amateur” riders. When the crowds dwindled once again, I was lifted into the saddle, and with a hearty “heeawwww!” I took off with flying hooves and a wake of dust. The details of this activity were unknown to my mother who assumed that my tales of having to rein in “that ornery cayuse” had their root in a galloping imagination. One evening my father suggested that she come and watch me ride, and after nearly dropping the camera in her terrified shock, she documented my cowboy skills in Kodak home movies. The owner of the pony rides place knew good advertising when it galloped past him: my riding was free.

My own first horse was named Lady. She was a handsome bay mare (if you overlooked her stiff legs and slight limp) given to me by my mother’s childhood friend, Marion. Marion had a farm, but she and her husband had recently moved to the city, leaving Lady, but not the daily chore of feeding her. I was the answer: a horse-crazy kid whose parents had recently bought an old house and two acres of land. The amenities of that real estate included a small pasture and a shed containing a box stall, the perfect home for a sedate equine.

Lady was 13 – about twice my age. She had been a riding stable mount - a lousy life for any horse - until her legs gave out, and from there she was sent to a mink farm where she was destined to become sustenance for those poor animals on their way to giving up their hides to grace the shoulders of rich women. Somehow Marion had seen her there, and in exchange for a fin and the horse’s promise to safely entertain Marion’s children, Lady evaded the gun and the food bowl. Several years passed, and those children left the nest. On June 10, 1952, Lady was trucked to her new home at my house. I paid Marion my life’s savings of $6.00 for her, which probably covered the cost of the transportation.

How I loved that horse. She was my steed, my friend and confidant, and the passion of my young life.

The remarkable thing about this story is that my parents knew nothing about horses and had no interest in them. Perhaps on a Sunday drive we passed “El Rancho”, the stable where someone first plunked me on top of a horse, and it was love at first plunk, or maybe it was a picture in a book or a toy animal that first caused me to become horse crazy. Whatever it was, my parents supported my interest with countless hours of their time and with money they really didn’t have. In doing so, they gave me a gift beyond measure: I grew up believing that a passion was to be followed and that dreams could be realized.

I guess I’ve written enough about this for now, so….. HEEAWWWW! C'mon, you ornery cayuse! Let's git to the ranch!