Apr 18

Infestation du jour

As I mentioned the other day, my life is a constant battle against assorted life forms united by the common goal of taking over my bunkhouse by any means necessary. Thus, for the second morning in a row, did I awaken to discover the mud room alive with dozens of paper wasps. It is always disappointing to entertain flying, stinging insects before coffee, but one must soldier on. I cannot fathom how these wasps are getting in, but I do know how they’re getting out. I’m suckin’em up with my BugZooka, baby.

Paper wasps collected in a BugZooka tube were released after modeling in this photo shoot.

Paper wasps collected in a BugZooka tube were released after modeling in this photo shoot.

The BugZooka is a child’s toy I found online. It’s a long plastic tube with a bellows on one end and a bug-catching nozzle on the other. You squeeze the bellows, lock it in place, position the nozzle within an inch of the bug, and press the release button. The bellows instantly inflate, sucking the bug into a little escape-proof compartment. This contraption may look dorky, but it is superior to a rolled-up newspaper because it doesn’t kill the bug, so you can release it back into the wild or, in the case of the venomous brown recluse spider, explain that it’s nothing personal but you’re gonna have to stomp it.

Also, the BugZooka won’t leave a squish stain on your wall. And it adds about 2 1/2 feet to your reach. And it uses no batteries. It’s genius, really. I often hand’em out on those occasions when social conventions dictate that, to maintain order within the fabric of civilization, gifts must be given. People think it’s a cheapo crap present until the next time they find a scorpion in the shower, and then they’re all “I don’t know how I ever lived without my BugZooka!” and they shower me with thanks through tears of gratitude.

As you can see from the photo, a typical wasp infestation at Dreadful Acres is child’s play for the BugZooka. I only wish they made a larger model that would suck up my feral hogs. If it had a sausage-maker attachment, so much the better.

Apr 17

Pus-colored entities

Well, it’s finally happened. And why wouldn’t it? Why wouldn’t my desk become infested with tiny pus-colored, speck-like entities that look like they’d be right at home inside a moth-eaten 100-year-old taxidermied jackalope? Frankly, I’m shocked that it took’em this long. Since I moved out here, nature’s indifference toward the personal sovereignty of H. sapiens has pretty much been the universal cry echoing through the hills. Life in the middle of nowhere is a losing battle against the tireless encroachment into one’s personal bunkhouse of violently aggressive life forms, most of which have teeth, stingers, venom, or all three. That my desk has heretofore been pus-colored-entity-free seems unbelievable.

Since discovering them this morning, I have been devising two working theories that could explain the tiny pus-colored entity population explosion: either my iMac has spawned nanobots, or, possibly, this:

For years the bunkhouse was rife with scorpions and brown recluse spiders and a crap-ton of every other bug you can think of. I shied away from chemical solutions because, cancer. But it was too ridiculous. I was smashing 2 or 3 brown recluses a day. So last summer, realizing that it was pretty miraculous that neither I nor the dogs had been envenomated yet, I finally cried uncle and called in an exterminator to douse the joint with carcinogenic toxins, whereupon the arthropods were done in.

But — and here’s the part where it gets kind of relevant to the pus-colored bugs — what if the dispatched spiders, or some other collaterally damaged insect population, had actually been instrumental in keeping the tiny bugs in check? What if, by killing the brown recluses, I have inadvertently set in motion a tiny pus-colored bug apocalypse? Obviously this is the butterfly effect moment that will ultimately bring human civilization crashing down in a pus-colored shitstorm.

Sadly, I cannot test my hypothesis without re-introducing the spiders, so this is another Science Mystery that will have to go unexplained because I am too lazy to ceaselessly toil in pursuit of Truth. Until further developments develop, I will continue to implement a squish first, ask questions later policy regarding the tiny pus-colored bugs.

Here’s a pretty dreadful thing, though. Once you have discovered a bazillion bugs on your desk, your entire body starts itching.

_________________
Photo of pus-colored bug taken with a ProScope Mobile at 50X magnification. It’s blurry because the dang bugs move fast and 50X photography with a handheld scope is hard.

Mar 27

The crone and the post-hole sirens

Gate latchWell, the horses got out.

First, though: you know how horses are in the wind? Let me refresh your memory. There’s something about an ordinary, garden-variety tornadic gale that sends a horse plummeting into a sort of infinite feedback loop of blind terror. They prance around, their eyes look crazed, they snort and blow, they flip their tails over their backs and arch their 28-foot necks and spook sideways for no reason. Then suddenly they go galloping off en masse, usually straight into a fence.

Panicking horse + fence = carnage and vet bills

Anyway, yesterday the tableau was cinematic. It was fixin’ to rain and the wind was gusting at about 40 miles an hour. Dark clouds roiled overhead. Dirt devils — little funnel clouds of dust, leaves, and taco wrappers loosed by the construction crew — sworled menacingly. Dead limbs came crashing down from drought-stressed oaks. Anything that could possibly make a rattling or creaking or whistling sound was rattling, creaking, and whistling. In the distance something — or someone — was screeching.

Naturally, out in the field the mares were stampeding according to the Global Accords Governing Equine Behavior, so I thought it might be better for everyone if I just brought them all in until everything blew over.

My flighty little Arabian Stella and I are two hearts that beat as one when it comes to repairing to cozy barns during sucky weather; when she saw me coming with the halter she was first in line, all “I’m a celebrity, get me outta here.” It wasn’t until I’d patted her butt and closed the stall door behind her that I happened to glance out the barn window. The spectacle I beheld was ghastly beyond comprehension. The two remaining horses, Pearl and Ginger Rogers, were lickety-splitting down the driveway, bucking and snorting.

This simply could not be happening. In disbelief I turned to observe the gate I thought I had securely fastened not a minute earlier. Impossibly, it swung sickeningly in the wind, its stupid unfastened chain thunking against the fencepost, mocking me. Shit. Damn thing must have bounced out of its stupid little groove. Usually I double-check, but with Stella jumpy as heck, my attention had been mostly focused on not getting too trampled.

Jumpy Arabian + stupid crone = loose horse crisis

Crisis? you ask. So your horses got loose, big whoop. Just stroll after’em with a bucket of feed like you always do.

Post hole with invisible post-hole siren

Post hole with invisible post-hole siren

I think I may have forgotten to mention that I am having a new fence built in the barnyard. About a quarter mile of it. It is just at that awkward stage where 7642 post holes have been dug to a depth of about 3 feet, but no lumber has arrived yet. The holes are wide open and plentiful. As far as horses go, that part of the farm is, it’s fair to say, a death trap, basically.

This is Dreadful Acres, so it goes without saying that it was toward this very hazard that the wind-crazed pair-o-mares had commenced scramming at a dead run. And I am a science-based crone, so it goes without saying that my hypothesis was this: my gaping post holes are inhabited by invisible post-hole sirens all transmitting on some equine frequency this irresistible message: “come hither, Dobbin, and step lively, right into these holes, hurry up, 72 bales of virgin alfalfa await you, no shit I’m totally serious.”

It is a scientific fact that horses in a herd are all connected emotionally by an invisible equine fiber-optic internet. Therefore Stella, who from her run had observed the egress of the escapees with mounting alarm, got the memo and began caterwauling and executing little “Ima jump outta here” rears. In reality poor Stella couldn’t jump over a broomstick, but she is not averse to dying in an effort to prove it.

The situation, in short, was completely out of hand.

The place I was in was a hard one. Next to me was a rock. I mean, the last thing you do with a pair of panicking horses is give chase; their most basic instinct is to flee at breakneck speed in the direction opposite the horrific threat, even if that threat is nothing more sinister than you, the wind, and a cotton lead rope, and particularly if a field of leg-breaking death-pits awaits them. Normally I’d just head’em off while projecting a totally chill, non-threatening, fancy-free demeanor, but in this case they were too far ahead of me. So although I couldn’t chase’em, I had to chase’em.

Yeah, I think I also may have forgotten to mention that I was nursing a recent ankle sprain.

So, to recap:

Gale force winds. Panicked horses on the lam. Field full of holes. Stella trying to commit suicide on paddock fence. Lone crone hobbling at breakankle speed.

Gad, the hilarity of it all.

Well, it all turned out OK in the end, no thanks to me. What happened was, at the last minute the post-hole sirens started transmitting a new message: “Never mind. Go back to the barn. Let that idiot Crone put a halter on you. Nothin’ to see here.”

Mar 25

Death in springtime

Many dreadful contingencies have obtained as a result of my having built a tall-ass horse barn, not the least of which is the decimation of the black-chinned hummingbirds.

I don’t know if you know about hummingbirds. Well, let me enlighten you. They are complete freaks of nature. Their metabolism is extreme and ridiculous, necessitated by their predilection for hovering over flowers and their concomitant aversion to taking a load off. If they don’t eat nectar more or less constantly they’ll starve to death within a couple of hours. This is all well and good and as nature intended and whatnot, until they get trapped in your barn.

Though pleasing to the human eye, the architecture of the barn — involving a 25-foot raised center aisle with skylights and fixed clerestory windows all around — is incompatible with hummingbird survival. They fly into the barn for reasons known only to them.

They don’t fly out.

The hummingbird’s instinct, which clearly evolved previous to the invention of RCA barns, compels them to fly up, up, never down toward the open door, always up, toward the skylights. Among the grimmest spectacles a crone can witness is one of these teensy birds, unaware that freedom awaits only a few feet below, bumping relentlessly at each window in succession until it expires from exhaustion. As distressing as it is for me, I suspect that it is somewhat worse for the bird.

Now it’s spring again, which means all kinds of horrible things. Oak pollen, and venomous snakes coming out of hibernation, and Eastern phoebes nesting in my carport in order to crap all over my car, and yes, the hummingbirds are back from points south, making their inevitable beeline for my dang barn. Yesterday I found the season’s first casualty dead on the floor.

Well, no more! I say. Based on last year’s detailed observations of trapped hummingbird window-bumping behavior, I have hatched a plan. This plan is predicated on the following hypothesis: if a hole is cut into the wooden gable vent at the same level as the clerestory windows against which the birds are wont to bump, they will eventually find this hole and liberate themselves. Today I am going to set in motion a series of events that will result such a hole being cut. Phase 2 of my cunning plan entails stringing up one of those red plastic feeders on a pulley positioned adjacent to the proposed gable-hole, and hoisting it up there to attract the bird to the exit.

If this doesn’t work I guess I am just doomed to suffer eternally the pangs of cosmic indifference to hummingbird life.

The logo for Dreadful Acres, if I ever get around to drawing it, will be a hummingbird with a teardrop in its eye.

Mar 24

Crone totally loses it

If there were some kind of contest for lack of rural aptitude, I would definitely own that thing. Guess what stupid thing I’ve done now.

Did you guess “put in a vineyard in the Back Forty”? You’re right!

You can’t just buy a few grape vines and stick’em in the ground, it turns out. Instead, you have to enclose the entire acreage in deer fence, run power and water out there, install irrigation lines, and erect what the vineyard guy is calling “a little house” for reasons I have yet to grasp.

Yeah, I said “vineyard guy.” You are obliged to engage one of these, because, remember? You don’t know jack about growing grapes.

That’s bad enough, but then you have to have arguments with your winemaker about what to call the winery, even though the first harvest is still at least two years out. We’re gonna be making rosé, so naturally I wanted to call it Summer Winery. It has its own flippin excellent video already.

However, the winemaker, my longtime sidekick Stingray, has put her foot down. “Summer” is apparently the worst winery name since “Mommy’s Juice.” Her reasoning eludes me. “Rosé isn’t just for summer anymore!” she keeps insisting. Fine, I counter, but we’re talking about a name, not a set of instructions. You don’t take it literally, it’s only meant to suggest a certain mood, elicit a certain feeling. It’s poetical, a metaphor. Is pasta alla puttanesca eaten only by prostituted women? Pull yourself together, woman!

This fight isn’t over.

Jun 21

Death of a cistern

JackhammerLike all recent mornings, there is, as I write this, a gigantic jackhammer jackhammering right outside my window. The jackhammer is destroying a 50,000 gallon underground concrete cistern. This cistern, constructed at great expense at the urging of my architect (“you’ve never tasted water so good!”), was meant to collect rainwater off the roof of the bunkhouse. And it did, in fact, collect some of that. It also collected oak pollen, squirrel feces, katydid frass, and the incessant involvement of my annoying handyman, who was obliged to ascend the roof with a leaf-blower seemingly every other day in a futile attempt to combat nature’s natural impulse to deposit its stankonious detritus over every square millimeter of Dreadful Acres.

The fact that rainwater collection necessitated daily interactions with a person as annoying as my handyman made that aspect of the process particularly trying.

The mosquitoes, though, were the cistern’s most truly breathtaking product. In the middle of a 3-year drought, with no other standing water around for miles, my house was a beacon, a spa, a luxury resort for mosquitoes. They spawned like mad in the cistern, where they were protected from both predators and, owing to the intended purpose of the water (drinking), from pesticides. For eight months out of the year any trip outside the house in shorts and a T-shirt was a foolhardy suicide mission.

“You aren’t going outside?”

“But I have to. The horses haven’t eaten since, like, April.”

“Well, here, just slip on this suit of armor.”

“Are you crazy? It’s 102 degrees out there.”

“Then at least spray yourself with Deep Woods Off. The bugs’ll still bite you, but at least you’ll get cancer.”

“Great idea!”

One would limp back in moments later, stinking of DEET, disfigured by stinging red bumps, scratching bloody divets into the skin, defeated, showing symptoms of malaria.

Meanwhile, a couple of months ago something or someone crawled into the cistern and died. The water went septic. I wonder if you grasp my meaning. The entire house stunk a stink the sheer enormity of which words cannot adequately express. Let me just tell you, you haven’t lived (in hell) until you’ve showered with water in which an unidentified mammal has recently decomposed.

Well, that was IT. With deft and malodorous fingers I texted young Travis, the quintessentially Texan cowboy Brad Pitt-lookin rurally-literate dude I keep on retainer, and gave him the word.

“Let’s fill that motherfucker in.”

Looking back, I probably didn’t actually use the word ‘motherfucker’. It’s irrational, but for some reason I am uncomfortable dropping the good old misogynist curses around godly young persons who wear Jesus fish chokers on leather thongs and call me “ma’am.”

rebarWhich brings me to this morning, Day 5 of the Great Cistern Demolition of 2013. The crew informs me that they’ll probably have it fully collapsed by tonight.

Not a moment too soon. Five days of ceaseless jackhammering can wear a crone down. The contractor who built this place was without a doubt the most drunken chump-ass jacknut this side of Luckenbach, but he was apparently and uncharacteristically somewhat on the ball when he installed the cistern. That thing was constructed like the president’s atomic bunker, and from what I can tell, was also the source of the Great Rebar Shortage of 2005.* In other words, it has resisted demolition at every turn. The jackhammerist is pretty fed up with it. Somehow, when I imagined filling it in, I hadn’t envisioned that it would entail caving in a vast expanse of concrete 30 feet across and 2 feet thick and pissing off 3 dudes with heavy machinery for the better part of a week. I thought maybe they’d drop one of those Monty Python weights on it and shove a bit of dirt in the hole, done and done.

Well, you live and learn. Next time I spend thousands of dollars on a useless mosquito farm, I’ll be sure and put it above ground and on someone else’s property.

______________________
* You can’t tell from the photo, because Flickr has apparently done something screwy to the resolution, but that’s about 47,358 rebars in a pile in front of what was once the cistern in question.

May 01

Horrible! I would totally wear these to a barn dance

Hoof boots

Taxidermy shoes by Iris Schieferstein give new meaning to the phrase “hoof boots.”

Via Buzzfeed

Apr 23

Crone sits in ugly tack, remains in denial about horse’s fatness

Maypearl gets outside some grassIt was windy the day the butt-fugly treeless endurance saddle arrived. This meant that test-riding it on Pearl (see Figure 1), my recently recommissioned Arabian endurance prospect, would be out of the question. Pearl objects on principle to wind, and, of late, to saddles.

Yes, it has dawned on me that these contingencies might be construed as drawbacks as pertains to our efforts on the endurance trail. One thing at a time.

Windy or no, the saddle was so homely I thought I’d better slap it on her for a minute or two, just to assess the level of Truth-and-Beauty-associated lobe-pain I could expect it to inflict. After chasing Pearl around the paddock for the usual 15 minutes, I finally caught her and chucked it on her back. I stepped away to drink it in.

I regret that there is no photo depicting the degree to which this big honkin’ saddle seemed to swallow up the diminutive Pearl. The spectacle was so disturbing that I could barely suppress a gag. The saddle is large and shapeless, and Pearl is tiny and refined. She was snorting, swinging her hind end around, and trying to bite it. She looked like she was being attacked by some sort of massive, netherworldly pterodactyl.

Let me just mention, a propos of Pearl’s obnoxious antics, that this 12-year-old horse was fully broke when I promoted her to pet status 3 years ago. Western pleasure, dressage, jumping (OK, she mostly jumped fence-post shadows when I least expected it, but still, A for effort, you know?). What I’m getting at is, it’s not like she’s a green-ass filly. She really is just that petulant.

I’m no saddle fitter, but it did appear, during those few moments, that the standard-equipment gullet was a bit narrow for her. This brand of saddle, the so-called Barefoot Cheyenne (not the name I would have chosen. I don’t like feet. And bare feet? In conjunction with a questionably non-PC Native American tribal name-drop? Shoot me now.) has an interchangeable gullet system. If the perpetual gale-force winds ever die down, I’m gonna try her in a wide.

Meanwhile, I really wanted to sit in this thing. It’s reputedly as comfortable as a Barcolounger. Toward this end I recruited my bloomy hunter, Ginger Rogers, who doesn’t give a flip about either wind or saddles.

Sorel mareIt turns out Ginger Rogers has put on a couple of pounds. It took me half an hour to hunt up a girth that would actually fit her (my trunk of dressage girths was buried under my trunk of stirrup leathers, reins, and bits, which was buried under a pile of stable blankets, which was concealed under a thick coating of dust and brown recluses in the back of the garage), but eventually I met with success. Behold the result in my Craigslist-calibre photo (“Butiful 4-year old sorel mare I didn’t register her due to family illness byt she’s the great-great grandauter of Seattle Slew and Poco Bueno, clips, baths, my grandauter rides her over bobwar fences without a helmet, in foal to our blue roan cremello stud, would make a great reining and jumping and team penning prospect, hate to sell her but I have to many, $250 OBO, serious only, no trailer no cash no show.”).

Crikey, is she really that fat? The camera adds 400 pounds, right?

Well, I took old G for a spin in that Barefoot Cheyenne (after adjusting it forward just a hair), and what the heck! That crazy-ass thing really is comfy. I mean, it has no twist at all, so I don’t know how long I’d actually last in it before the sensation of doing the splits would become overwhelming, but for half an hour it was pretty OK. Ginger Rogers seemed to like it, too. I hesitate to admit it, but it would appear that this $600 treeless contraption fits her better than her $5000 PJ. So we’re gonna keep it, if only for those moments when we’d both rather be wearing sweatpants.

Apr 22

Je ne suis pas une cat blogger!

Smudge and Roger

In this crappy iPhone foto of yesterday’s duskular arboreal cat fight, Smudge, the black cat, stalks Roger (in the highlighted circle). A pity I couldn’t capture the immediately subsequent sworling vortex of yowling fur; the violent spectacle horrified me such that I was rendered uncamerable.

Apr 21

Sunday cat blogging

Well, just when the whole animal situation here at Dreadful Acres was starting to function like a well-oiled machine, boom! A cat incident.

I should point out that, although I am a crone, my familiarity with cats is but fragmentary. This is counter-intuitive, I realize, but rest assured I am working assiduously to bring my skill set in line with the customary cronal expertise. Hence this post.

Here’s the predicament. Feral Cat No.1 — I named him Smudge but — and it pains me to admit it — I actually call him “Kitty-Katty” — and I have been harmoniously coexisting since November. I give him turkey pâté twice a day. In return, he tags along when I feed the horses, and rolls around on my boots and purrs. Aww. Cute.

RogerBut three days ago an interloper staged an incursion. That fateful morning I staggered out to the carport as usual to chuck the turkey pâté in the cat bowl, and was jarred by the spectacle of a totally different cat in the cat bowl area. No doubt you will have surmised that this was none other than Feral Cat No.2. Smudge, my sentimental favorite, was a no-show. I naturally gave FC2 the turkey pâté, as he was looking pretty skinny and tragic and I am a pretty soft touch. I then set off to find the original cat.

A day later I discovered old Smudge cowering in the woods. He appeared to be terrified of FC2 and wouldn’t come near the house for all the cat food in Thailand. I was obliged to deliver Smudge’s meals to his remote bower while FC2 dined in the more luxurious carport location.

Until this morning. Compelled by who knows what mysterious and perverse feline conviction, Smudge unexpectedly strolled back into his old carport stomping ground, where, lo these past 3 days FC2 (by now answering to the name “Roger”) has been holding court. With Smudge back in the fold, I surmised (somewhat naïvely, it would turn out) that the situation was now resolved and we would all resume our happy carefree lives. I set some turkey pâté down in front of each of them — one cat over here, the other over there — then tottered off to toss some goat pellets at Notchy, my geriatric semi-tame doe.

Then all hell broke loose.

Did I mention that these cats are both intact males? Yes, yes, I know. Lecture me if you must, but don’t judge me. I’ve tried trapping young Smudge so I can get him fixed and vaccinated, but that’s easier said than done. So far all I’ve managed to catch is a gnarly-ass raccoon that eats all the cat food and then busts out of the Havahart so it can knock over my trash can at 3AM.

Well, the cat fight was epic. I believe it caused a disturbance in the Force: the dogs went ballistic, Notchy and the rest of her girl gang snorted and scattered, the furry woodland creatures went to ground, the birds all flapped off to distant trees. Growling, yowling, fur flying in slow motion, even the crickets stopped chirping. In the end, Smudge had reclaimed his territory and Roger was ousted from the carport.

Disturbing, to be sure, but I couldn’t stand around all day worrying about these felines. I had important things to do. A MacGyver marathon was on TV, for crying out loud. And I had to perform my usual weekly search on Dreamhorse (8-to-10-year-old bay tobiano ⅞ Arab gelding, between 14.2 and 15.2 hh, clean legged and barefoot, with some dressage and finished in competative trail and/or endurance, no vices, kid-safe temperament, priced reasonably and available for a 2-week trial here at Dreadful Acres. You will be shocked to learn that I have been conducting this search weekly for 3 years without result, but hope springs eternal).

Dusk. MacGyver saved “the girl” and got the bad guy, and my Dreamhorse search had come up bupkis, so I strolled outside with two cans of turkey pate and called the cats. Their replies came from an unexpected location: way up in an oak tree. They were so way up they looked like little balls of moss. Roger was teetering precariously at the end of a slender bough, and Smudge was yowling at him from a sturdier perch a few feet closer to the trunk. It was clear that Smudge had chased Roger up there and was now intent on re-enacting the limb-jouncing scene from A Separate Peace.

To my horror, Smudge advanced on his enemy. The yowling intensified. Suddenly the cats melded into a single swirling vortex of screaming fur, churning at the end of the swaying branch. Not once but twice poor Roger was nearly dislodged, and clung literally by a desperate claw to the limb before somehow righting himself. You know that “Hang in there” poster? Picture that, only re-think it as the poster for a Stephen King blockbuster.

After much cajoling I was able to lure Smudge down with the cat food. Roger followed some minutes later. He was missing some fur on his neck but otherwise seemed fine. I gave him his turkey pate behind the horses’ run-in shed, some 200 yards beyond Smudge’s sphere. It will not surprise you to learn that this arboreal cat fight scenario replayed twice more before I finally went to bed. This morning it was more of the same. I am becoming somewhat distraught.

If Smudge knocks Roger out of that tree — which at this point seems inevitable, given the frequency of his attacks and the narrowness of Roger’s escapes thus far — the 30-foot fall will certainly kill him.

Good times.

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