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February Thaw


Have we ever had weather like this in February before? Every day this past week the temperature rose a little, till on Saturday, it blossomed into the full bloom of spring. Everyone is simply singing with the joy of it all. Down in the draw, the creek is chuckling along beneath what is left of the ice and I've been taking long walks with the dogs to go listen to its laughter. We head north on the muddy, rutted road for the first half mile, until we get to the fence line. From there we turn east, down into the trees. There are plenty of thick, fallen braches on which to sit for a minute or two, listening to a sparrow, or the coarse call of the grouse in the brush. We follow the creek as it snakes along for awhile, then narrows down to nothing more than dampness, a good place to cross. We like to use the cow paths along the hill side, angling our way back out of the ravine. Or at least I do. The dogs are happy to follow no path at all, pulling their lean bodies straight up to the crest of the ridge, then barreling back down to romp some more in the muck. We pass the dam. It is still frozen, but puddles glisten on the ice, and it makes a hollow echo when a rock is thrown across its face. The soft mud beside its surface is marked with the hoofprints of deer, the tiny hands of raccoons, and the three fingered claws of the pheasant. And the paws of the dogs of course, who stop to sniff everyone else's tracks. Back at the house, the chickens are camped on the east side of their coop, where the soil has dried and they can fan up dusty wallows for baths and general lounging. We've found the whole flock gathered there, wings spread, to catch the morning sun. After the walk, it's too warm for Ellie, so she's switched sides of the hay bale for the first big nap of the day. Before she used the bale as a windbreak, now she uses it for shade. Like the chickens, the colts aren't afraid of the rays. They sunbath in the corral, legs stretched out, dreaming of greening meadows, while in the next corral, the calves buck and run, shaking winter off like an old, worn coat. Meri and her lambs are also doing wonderfully well. The lambs seem to gain an ounce an hour as their bodies try to catch up with the long stems of their legs. They love their mama, and won't let her out of their sight. Every once in awhile she bleats, perhaps a bit wearily, and I go over for a few minutes of lamb sitting. I pick up one baby, then the other, and they peer at me through blinking blue-brown eyes as their mama sighs nearby, munching hay. There has been one shadow of sadness on these bright days, however. We lost a good friend this week. Hank the horse was the man of the ranch's traveling companion and roping partner back when both were young. After many years of service, Hank was enjoying a long retirement -- it had been half a decade since he'd had to chase a calf. But at thirty-one, his age was more then starting to show. Everytime we went to check the horses this winter, we wondered if we'd find him still standing. Saturday, he wasn't. In the middle of this glimmering February spring, old Hank, his long bones aching and tired, lay down, and that is where the man of the ranch found him, his horse spirit gone to gallop across the tall, brown grass. I am so sad, even though it means he won't have to suffer through what is coming next. Because it will get bitter cold again before too long -- for weeks that will turn into months, with no end in sight. We will wonder if it will ever get warm. Then one day, just when we are about to give up hope, the sun will return, soothing the stems of the wind burned grass, and calling to the seeds buried in the soil, "Come out! Come out!" Calling to the wildflowers that will bloom gold, and pink, and white over the grave of a beautiful, old horse named Hank. Calling me out of the house and down the road to where the wild things are running free and everyone is singing their spring song again.


#walks #winter #horses

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