A Wanderer Describes The Sea at Kenmare

A curtain of brook-soaked lambs wool beads the size of diatom welcomed by pores with open arms.
A man from Fishamble Street whose voice seeps through the floorboards swollen with tears.
A sand cast bottle of evolutionary perfume that causes the nose of a specter to run.
A gold mining pan fueled by Robert Fludd’s water screw perpetual motion machine.
A wave pattern of auburn curls encouraged barometrically and darkening.
A cockled scarf with matching ice cube earmuffs in goose feather gray.
A primordial hammock pendulumed by a polar bear’s bellows.
A scaly aroma of moss rot emanating from Cox’s timepiece.
A cradle rocked by the thermodynamic foot of an osprey.
A marble lined tin corset tied with seaweed braids.
A manatee named Eidolon’s claw-footed enamel tub.
A chilled ancestor and her tadpole scented hoop.
A liquid crow wing poured into a time crystal.
A latitudinal helmet filled with coal jelly.
A slate bed sheeted in a cellar’s cloak.
A dewdrop’s third cousin.
A tomb for a sunbeam.
A soul’s compass.
A planet’s love.
by Karen Jo Vennes

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Justice for Desdemona


Writing at Anaverna


Iago’s whispers shouted to Othello. He swiped at the web spun by the harem of Iago’s spider colony in an attempt to free himself. The filaments were airy and had hardly any weight to them. Yet, they were pliable and clingy, making them more of a challenge to remove than one might initially realize.
His fingers combed through his hair. He held them in front of him to asses how many he had caught; only to see his hands empty. He could still feel the netting in his curls and pulled with greater intention, but they would not release. He washed his face with imaginary water and checked his web free hands again.
Her lavender tea tinged breath floated over their bed and he siphoned it into his lungs. The stabs, produced by the slurs from the arachnids, animated his hands once more. They shook as they formed the shape of her neck. They would choke the lavender breath  out of her until the voices of the spiders subsided.
She’d pulled the duvet up to her chin in subconscious protection from the cold and smell of fly carcasses. Her fingertips gripped the damask even as she slept and pinned the amulet of hardened bread crumbs that Othello had given her for their anniversary.
A hard shelled seed buried deep within Othello’s ventricle popped at the seam as a memory of her holding his head in her lap surfaced. The spider web filaments knitted around the memory as he stood over her. Othello’s hands cradled her neck and his thumbs gently stroked a comforting rhythm before pressing in so hard that his lips curled back and he grunted with the effort of pushing a cork into a wine bottle.
The amulet bounced and crumbled to the floor. She writhed with effort to free his hands from her neck and left moon shaped fingernail prints on his wrists. His eyes blurred with fly guts merged with her struggle and spurred his attempt to focus as he tried to make the circle smaller. Her eyes opened wide and a spark from her lash flew onto his forehead burning a hole through his smear cloaked third eye.
Her face appeared to turn upside down. Or had he turned upside down? Othello shook his head violently; the spider webs still gripped his hair and the fly entrails still held to his eyeballs. The burned hole seemed a portal and a thousand disconnected dots appeared in his mind. They came alive and sounded like houseflies. He cupped his hands to his ears. Desdemona gasped a full breath and rolled out of the birch wood bed and began to crawl away only to run smack into Iago who’d hidden behind  her dressing screen.
As the seed in Othello’s aorta sprouted open and the net fell away, a whisper escaped from it’s husk. A whisper so loud that it drowned out the lies of the spiders and their feast of flies and his hands came away from his ears. He studied them once more.  This time in horror regarding what he had just done.
He turned to find Iago grasping Desdemona’s braids with the proud smile of having duped Othello. Iago offered her up to him. Othello paused, his vision still dotted, and he tried to connect them all.  His third eye tried adding them up.
One dot for the deceiver who’d spat in her face. When she’d anguished over the assault, Othello recalled how he’d left her crying in the bed and gone off to play music with the perpetrator. The shock of the cruel treatment had sent her packing and he felt nauseous as he recalled how he’d helped her load her cases onto her mount before grabbing his guitar. After three days, he’d missed her nurturing and weakly apologized. She’d forgiven him; seeing only the buried seed in his heart.
One dot for the warlock who she’d begged him to protect her from;  fearing some calamity to come. Othello had belittled her fears until she thought she was mad and sought counsel from a gypsy woman deep in the forest. Once he had her convinced that she was merely paranoid and broken, he forced her to spend her birthday celebration with the frightening dot. And when the warlock dot burned their house down and killed her black wolf, Othello never admitted to wrong.
She’d choked back the harm until the toxic fluid it produced plugged her veins and she retreated to her ancestral land. He’d defended the dot rather than Desdemona. For, having seen them together, the warlock dot knew that Othello had secretly abandoned Desdemona  for a spider with the mind of an abacus, the breath of a dead fly, and a spawn for whom Othello diverted funds from Desdemona to support.
She’d battled the many dots of his harem on her own and had lived with the swords in her back and roses in her eyes for a decade as the blood seeped out drip by drip.
One dot for his old friend Iago whose ego boosting campaign convinced Othello to strip Desdemona of her wings. Othello’s need for admiration was further satisfied by the attention from the spider girl and her offspring. Iago; the warlock dot, the spitting dot, the spider dot and her progeny had worked in tandem to fracture Othello’s devotion to Desdemona.
Desdemona supported Othello with love, devotion and true admiration; which were no match for the emotional manipulation employed by the rotten dots.  It had worked so well that it had finally pressed the seed so far down into Othello’s heart, that he hatched a plan to throw Desdemona away. He became addicted to the dark cloak and low frequency vibrations of the surrounding the dots.
For a long time, the seed’s existence had kept him from having the courage to get rid of Desdemona. Her constant supply of love kept him buoyed and he sucked up hers
as well as that of the sycophants. As Desdemona isolated herself further, he built a secret empire with Iago, his spider girl, her spiderling, and the other dots in the harem.
Othello moved towards Iago, the skin of Desdemona’s face stretched back from the force of Iago’s grip upon her braids. The thousand dots lifted their eyelids and the eyes peered at Othello as he stumbled towards them. Desdemona observed a mask of Othello’s face, still attached by one ribbon. The mask slipped all of the way off and hung at his neck by the other ribbon. Othello grabbed it and tried to tie it back on.
The whisper of the seed; the spark from Desdemona’s eyelash, the whole in his third eye that it had left, Iago’s stench-y smirk, the foul breath of the spider-girl when she laughed at him, and the thousand eyeball dots symphonized until Othello was on his head.
He lunged for Iago. Iago released Desdemona’s braids and scrambled out the door with strands of her hair tickling his arms. Looking over his shoulder, he ran straight into a stone monolith that had just been wheeled into the alley for placement at the temple. The workers, resting temporarily, watched in horror as Iago’s forehead split wide open with the force of his attempt to escape.
Othello dragged Iago’s unconscious body to the river and finished him off. He’d secretly hoped that ending Iago would convince Desdemona to stay with him until he’d consumed her every drop of blood. Once in the water he tried to wash himself clean. The grating voice of his spider girl drilled pinholes into his head and could not be drowned out even under the water.
Desdemona pulled herself up from the floor using Iago’s left behind staff to steady herself. Once upright, she wobbled forth to her table and dressed her wounded throat with myrrh. It’s astringent sting released a floodgate of tears and the swords in her back clattered to the floor.
Her intuition had told her to be ready to defend herself after she’d seen Othello’s mask tip to the side on the night of the full moon.  That night she’d awakened from a nightmare and confronted him about the spider girl from her dream. He scoffed at her ridiculous accusation. She picked up the bone handled knife, a gift from her father, that she’d hidden behind the dressing table after the dream. With it, her hands still slippery with oil, she cut the name tags from her garments. Crafted by her mother, embroidered with her daughter’s name: Desdemona. She sawed through them with the blade.  Then dipped her hands into a bowl of gold leaf flakes left by the scribe and the shards stuck to the remaining oil of myrrh.
When Othello returned from the river, he kneeled at her doorstep sobbing. His recognition of the damage the twisted dots had achieved in his life, the cascading feelings of how he’d been blinded by those intent to tear him from his love made his head fall heavily from his shoulders. She placed her left hand on the top of his head and her right hand over his heart. He welcomed her gentleness and realized the value it had given him through the decades. The seed blossomed and it’s foliage flooded the corners of his body, soul and mind.
His robe was soaked and the gold flecks that still clung to her hands were transferred onto it leaving a wing-shaped imprints over his heart and a gold crown on his head. With the strength of a wounded bird, she pushed him backwards into the sandy street.
Othello landed on a nest of scorpions. The mother and her pups all stung him multiple times until their venom paralyzed him. His hands had gone to her handprints as he’d fallen. He was unable to move them in order to clear the bile that had collected in his throat and now seeped out of the sides of his trembling mouth. As flies collected on his vomit, his hands remained on the golden hand prints. The flies crawled into his mouth and nose and filled him with their offspring until he could no longer breathe.
Desdemona turned from him, pulled her door to and locked it.  She pulled on her nameless garb and removed the key from the locked door. She placed the key on a carved wooden chain and hung it from her waist. Her butterfly wings pulsed themselves back into existence and she opened her window and flew. When she finally reached the sea, her wounds were nursed with seaweed by the nymphs. The gulls shared their fish with her, the crabs pushed the sand into the shape of a pillow for her head. She slept with her feet in the sea and a pair of newborn dolphin calves covered them with their bodies to keep her warm. Mother earth held her for forty days and nights until she grew strong enough to love again.



Iridescent Veins


She stands at the rim of the Western side and I stand at the rim of the Eastern one. We give one another the signal to plunge. I’ll not jump to the Western side in order to bridge our gap and she’ll not jump to the Eastern precipice. Instead we both jump into the heart of the chasm.

Like the macrame trimming a Brazilian hammock, our veins protude from our toes, fingers, and belly-buttons and form a fringe that spans the Grand Canyon. They weave together in a basket pattern where they meet. The ones from our belly buttons form a matrix so dense that it’s more like a cord than a basket and it wraps around our waists. The veins are so long however, that we are able to move about as far as we like independently.

We embrace tightly as we reach the center with benign nothingness below us and descend. A cape made of catclaw acacia and stream orchid appears around our shoulders. Both of our heads fit through the neck hole of the cape and it falls around our shoulders. It fills with air from the velocity of our fall but it does not blow up to cover our faces. Rather, it forms a parachute and buffers our entry into the water.

We float down with the current until we are finally washed upon the rocky, sandy banks of the Colorado River. We stay in the embrace for a while with the wet cape clinging to us. We don’t check the cord for we know that it is intact. With our fingernails we pry pebbles and reeds from our dangling networks of veins and bounce the ends of one another’s canyon-lake-water soaked hair in the other’s palms as we slosh along dragging the veins behind us. We switch from from hair bouncing to vegetation cape pulling to encourage the water to let go.

We emerge from the canyon and are lying in the hallway of the house that dad built every night and weekend for three years after working forty hours a week at the Air Force base. We didn’t live there as toddlers but in this moment we are three and four and a half. Giggling and awake at 5 am on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus. The shag carpet itches our cheeks. The canyon flower cape has dried and we play with it.  She puts it on her head and pretends that it is her very long hair and flings it over her shoulder and cocks her hip out to say, “Look at my fabulously long hair.”  She takes it off for my turn and I put it around my waist pretending that it is a poodle-skirt and we subconsciously reach for a jitterbug twirl position. When our fingers are secured, we twirl one another like the grown ups do.

We distract ourselves from the anticipation of opening our gifts for as long as we can. Finally Mom calls us trying to sound happy.  But, she is wringing her hands in her night gown. The anxiety of what cruelty Dad has planned to ruin our joy courses through the cord. Our heads go back into the neck hole of the cape and we shuffle towards our stockings hanging above the brick fireplace that Dad built.

Any joy experienced by anyone for any reason other than his exhaulted greatness is a threat to his existence. Any autonomy cannot be tolerated by the pathological jealousy of the narcisisst. He takes the Christmas Candy from the coffee table and places it on the counter just out of reach of our tiny hands.

We look at Dad asking permission to take down the stockings. He doesn’t see the riparian cape and shoves our shoulders apart so that we can dump our stockings out without tripping on one another. We dump out the oranges, lip gloss, pecans and macadamean nuts and kiddles. We are 8 and 9 1/2 now. We immediately turn to the giant boxes that are under the tree and Mom gathers up the stocking stuffers and smiles but I hear her voice crying in my head and associate it to this particular smile. I had prayed a hedge
of thorns around her before school a few days earlier as the Bible says to do. I hadn’t heard the preacher mention that it was for those whose spouse needs protection from straying.  I had only heard the protection part.

We are excited to open the large boxes but notice that Dad is especially excited about it and become suspicious. His joy is never celebrating our joy so we know something is up.  We hope that we are wrong and imagine they contain go carts or a accordians or giant puppies or a canopy bed.

They instead contain another large box that has been nested inside and so on and so on like Russian Babushka dolls. We finally reach the smallest box and it is the size of a watch box.  We look at each other thinking, “Oh my Gosh, he bought us some beautiful jewelry!”

We open that box and each find a newspaper pouch. We unfold the layers of newspaper forever until we finally reach the middle. Each middle contains one nickle and five pennies.  Dad howls with glee and we look at one another confused and throw them on the ground turning to the other gifts. Mom exhales.

We open the Lincoln-Logs and Lite-Brite set. Mom is waiting for Dad’s cue to tell us to go to the carport for one more gift. We find our bicycles with banana seats and Monkey handle bars.  Hers is pink and white, mine green and silver. We hike up our gowns and ride them in the front yard until Mom makes us go in and get dressed.

In my forties, one day after therapy I was able to piece together some of an old memory that had sent me there. But it was my sister, Kim, who named the culprit. I called her to discuss the memory from my session. I asked if she remembered when I was three and Mom and Dad went to Memphis for the weekend.

They left me with Dad’s mom at the second family farm in Mena, Arkansas. They left Kim at Grandma Irby’s in Morgan; near Mayflower, Arkansas.

I recounted my memory. “I am floating above myself and see the back of my hair. I see the geckos on the screen door and I see myself walking past a man who is smiling at me but his smile makes me feel afraid.” Kim says, “It’s Carl.” Grandmother Davis’ abusive boyfriend. She describes him just as I see him in my memory. We talk about the hole Dad still had in his chest from where Carl had kicked him with his turkey toed boot for trying to pull him off of his sister when he was about seventeen.

Kim begins to describe my memory as if it were hers. She sees Grandmother Davis’ house. Sees her funnel me past Carl’s creepily smiling face and into her bedroom. She sees her hoist me high upon her bed with the flowered bedspread. She describes her opening the giant filigree box filled with every colored rhinestone imaginable adorning her costume jewelry collection.

I take over narrating my memory of how she allowed me to play with the jewelry and how it seemed that soon after I must’ve passed out. We wonder aloud if they’d drugged me and we recount how Grandmother Davis always gave Dad tranquilizers when we were growing up.

“Honey,” I say, “that is not your memory.” “How do you know this?” “I have never spoken of it, the geckos, the jewelry, the bedspread, Carl, and you were never there.” “I never knew who the man was.”  “How did you know this?” “You were at Grandma Irby’s house. You were eighteen months old.”

We become confused and try to figure out what just happened. She recounts it again and this time remembers seeing Mom and Dad drive off and leaving me there.  So small.  She sees the memory too as if she is floating.  She can see the back of my head and describes
me walking past Carl just as I see it in my memory. I see them removing the clothes from my limp body and Kim throwing her head back and wailing as Grandmother Irby tries to find the source of her fit. I see a concrete floored structure that I don’t recognize, then my three year old self alone and peering into a bucket of water.

It was as if she’d astro-projected there.  The chord of veins had reached for 140 miles that weekend.

We pieced together that must’ve been the time when she would not allow Grandma Irby to remove her clothes to bathe her that night while Mom and Dad were away. Grandma Irby was distraught that she’d had to put her to bed without a bath and recounted
the story many times over the years. She would say that Kim had a temper and would explain how she had become unglued the moment grandma had attempted to remove her dress for a bath. She had to let her sleep in the dress that night because Kim
had screamed  herself purple. Grandma Irby said she snubbed (her word for sniffling as a toddler does after a long cry) afterwards for almost an hour and there was no explanation for her behavior.


On the contrary, Grandma Davis had not even attempted to bathe me before returning me to my parents. My mother told me many years later that when they’d come to pick me up, the top of my hair was caked with mud as if I’d been ground into the dirt head first. They took me to the doctor. Not long after, Grandmother Davis shot Carl fourteen times for trying to rape her and she was sent to the Benton State Hospital for shock therapy.

I’ve sold the stratavarius; the one that belonged to Carl and that Dad had sworn to be the valuable kind. I’ve burned the flowered bedspread that I found in the chink-log cabin at the farm in Paris, Arkansas. I’ve stomped the rhinestones from their casings.


My sister’s veins are black and white and filled with stained glass windows, Bibles and church pews. Mine are gray and filled with tree branches, moonstones and feathers. But where they weave, both sets are iridescent.

Back at the shore of the canyon we see a turtle with a tiny bird on it’s back.  The bird has a twig of mesquite in it’s mouth and does not fly away when we simultaneously bend down to look at them.  The sun warms our naked butts peeking out beneath the cape. The sand cakes our vein fringe. I am the turtle with my home on my back.  She is the bird with the twig for her nest. I carry her now. I scream purple now. I astro-project through the iridescent vein cord now.

We notice some stained patches on the pile of veins behind us. Splotches, the color of congealed blood.  We don’t want the stained pieces any more and pierce them with tiny straws. She pierces the Western edge of each stain and I pierce the Eastern edge and we
both blow bubbles through them with so much force that they finally become iridescent again and sparkle like the Eiffel Tower does for five minutes every hour on the hour when it is lit with golden glittery lights in the Paris night.



I’m all at Sea



Golden Viking Boat Irish National Museum



Prior to my divorce on February 13th and my arrival in Ireland on February 21st, I had  felt the constant anxiety one experiences while living in the same sphere with someone who is hiding something. When it lifted, it was very noticeable. I had not been anxious on the airplane, in the airport, or, riding from Dublin to Dundalk. Strangely calm; I tell my sister in a text.

When I cast out the sailor to whom I was no longer of value, he quickly discarded me, began a smear campaign (as narcissists do), and waded into the shallows where he belongs. I continue to cut out those who engage in such treachery; those who have enjoyed my loving support but can not give it in return, those who feel they have a right to flim-flamery without being called out for it, those who flatter me to my face while degrading me behind my back. Each time I pluck out a backstabber, three champions spring forth in their place.  

I have sold Bohemian Farm. My inheritance from my father’s mother: my grandmother Davis. I have rehomed my animals and am freed from all that chained me to America. And yet I have moments where I miss my chains. They were at least familiar.  I knew where to go and what to do and how the hob (stove) works.  And I knew people and creatures who’ve known me for many years and could stand up their daily encounters with me against the sailor’s seemingly loving and manipulative slights.

Now I am all at sea. Untethered and tossed about as flotsam and jetsam. A floating bull. I float down the Arkansas river and join the great Mississippi. I tread water on through Louisiana and out into the gulf of Mexico.  Cleaving for terra firma on the one hand and enjoying the uncharted scenery on the other.

Some sea cows befriend me as I bump along the coast of Florida. I am dumped into the Atlantic and then pushed down into the Celtic Sea, past St. George’s Channel and finally into the Irish Sea where there are no manatee.

I wash up along the Cooley Peninsula and land in County Louth. Like Coco Chanel; I am orphaned and taken in by eccentric aristocrats in Ravensdale. I go into the kitchen of the Georgian house. It is familiar like the houses in the garden district of New Orleans. There are giant wooden shudders on the inside like the ones in my home in Barcelona.  They control the temperature in the house.

There is a coffee press and a percolator but they are rarely used. Instead, boiling water is poured over instant coffee crystals like my grandmother Irby did. A holdover, I imagine, from her Irish granny; whom she worshipped. Hers was the only house in America where I’d ever seen instant coffee. She called it snuff coffee. Her Appalachian spin.

The people at Anaverna read poems and plays rather than watching television. The water that fills the bathtub comes from a river and leaves its silt after bathing. Daffodils are as abundant as they were at Bohemian Farm. Their commonplace numbers, however, in this land, do not diminish their stature. They are sold at country markets and fancy shops and given as thank you’s for donating to charity. They are appreciated for their sunny glow, sturdiness in bouquets, and ability to beautify the homes they live in front of.

I go into the “yard” (the word for stables) to place a flower arrangement. It has been converted into a concert hall and must be readied for the guests. I discover a set of dishes of the same pattern as my mother’s.  The same English pattern.  It’s as if my mother imagined this for me even before I imagined it for me.

Many things in this new land are confusing to me; including the way people show love. But, they are helping me to gain a better understanding of my grandmother Irby (The English surname of my grandfather). I wish I hadn’t tried to put the way she loved me in a box.  Her love was unspoken and mostly non-demonstrative. Other than when we were sick or hurt. She was the first on the scene and stayed by the bedside until we were well. The profundity did not rely on kind words to build me up. Our connection existed, and does to this day, on a plane that cannot be walked upon.

I imagine her a tree with long sinewy roots escaping from her feet. They travel above ground like a forsythia does and turn gold.  The gilded tendrils pierce the bottoms of my feet, root themselves through my veins, and shoot out the top of my head.  They are metallic and thin and in long strands and they weave themselves into a crown and tangle in my hair. A hurricane could not tear us apart.

The people here drink tea to solve problems and fight the rainy cold. It rains most every day and they complain about the weather most every day.  Which makes me so happy.  They don’t shy away from gloomy ballads or pretend that the weather is something that it isn’t.  They are not easily manipulated. They make me feel calm.

When I get into a cab I am reminded of the backward way that grandmother Irby showed me love. (“Benign neglect is what they call it.” An Irish friend explains.) I ask the driver if I can sit in the front seat.  “I don’t care if you sit on the roof.” he responds. Or when I go into a cafe and ask the lady at the counter if I can sit outside.  “I don’t care if you freeze to death.” she says as she follows me out and fusses over me, sits down at the table with me, and asks me where in America I’m from. And when I ask Thomas if I can eat one of the teacakes on the table, “I don’t care if you eat the whole lot.” he says.

My writing teacher, who is Irish, explains “This is meant to put you at ease when they see you stressed out about what to do”.  It is different from the response “Of course ya can!” that is commonly said when I ask a question but do not seem stressed about it. “Can I get a pint of Murphy’s?”  “Of course ya can.”

At this moment I am in Kenmare.  On the Western side of the Island. There is bright shiny sun with a hail shower, a rainbow, and lashing, gale force winds all at the same time. I pour a cup of tea. I walk out into it in my bed-clothes. The cold fills me up. I ask grandmother Davis to hold onto my left ankle and grandmother Irby to hold onto my right one so that I won’t float away.

Tá mé go léir ar muir = I’m all at sea.


To be, or not to be, my face

20181022_152053I was trying to help Misses Poe. I worried that nobody had ever told her that she was mis-pronouncing the word. I thought she’d be glad to learn the correct pronunciation. I was four and it didn’t occur to me that I might embarrass her by pointing out a mistake.

Our dachshund had escaped, pulled her clean laundry off of the line, and trampled it leaving muddy paw prints. Mom and I put the dog away, gathered Misses Poe’s laundry up on the porch for re-washing and she’d offered us a “cheer.” As I explained that the word was pronounced “chayer, not cheeyer.” I remember how my mother’s body stiffened. She inhaled; nose rising, looked at Misses Poe and me through the lacy screen of her cigarette smoke and her eyes said, “I have no idea who this is” as they searched for a secret port-hole beneath the boards.

The consequences of my having voiced what I thought to be the benign truth included being unplugged from a love source. Pronouncing words in her dialect was a part of Misses Poe’s identity and I had dishonored her identity. I hadn’t come off as helpful, rather as a toddler with a superiority complex.

My suffer-battered relationship with the truth came up in my psychic reading with  renowned guru; Prince Hirindra Singh. He wore a white holy man pagri and plastic sandals. He had given up his family fortune in pursuit of learning and teaching  from the world’s religions . He lectured to Fortune 500 companies and gave past life, numerology, and psychic readings.

His guidance from my session was: “Do Not Be Your Face.” “Your face says you are in love with the truth.” “The truth gets you into trouble.” “Nobody cares about your truth.” “The saints lie all the time.” “When you expose a truth to someone before they are ready, it’s like a cruelty.” ”

Their hearts cannot take it, so they blame anything that goes wrong on you.” “You will not win at this.” “If you want to succeed; do not be your face.”

I’d seen a mountain lion at the edge of our fenced area this past August. She was the color of the crate of rusty chains by the tool shed and the size of a buck. She was panting from the suffocating humidity. The dogs must’ve chased her around. They were panting too. After carrying a bull horn and big stick wherever I went for a few days, I stopped looking at her as a bodily threat and began to think of her significance on a mystical level.

Such an anomaly; seeing a mountain lion. They are so private that local game wardens get away with refusing to admit they exist. I searched mountain lion on SpiritAnimal.com. It said “If you see a mountain lion, the message from the universe is to lead without expecting anyone to follow and to love the sacred knowledge that only solitude can bring.”

I often go for days at Bohemian Farm without seeing another human. Alan works out-of-town; I stay home writing and mucking stalls. We don’t have television and our mailbox is at the main road. My initial fears of solitude have been exceeded. My unaddressed wounds have worked their way back up into the epidermis all at the same time.

The sacred knowledge has revealed to me how often I do not show up for my own life. I constantly cede my rightful power in so many little ways. A wounded child survival skill no longer needed.

A stocky man, his stocky father, and a stocky friend drove over from Oklahoma to buy our tractor. When it came time to pay for my father’s tractor, he handed Alan a check. I said, “excuse me, you plan to pay for this item with an out-of-state check?” This was terrifying for me; knowing I’d committed some cruelty for speaking a benign truth and would be instantly unplugged from any support system. I viewed him from Misses Poes’ front porch. The other men kicked the dirt and the buyer explained, “Oh yeah, it’s fine. I’m a teacher and a youth pastor, and I drive the school bus.”

I explained that I did not want to have to drive to Oklahoma if his check bounced in order to retrieve my property. “You’ll have my father’s tractor and I won’t be paid for it
for three days, as this is an out-of-state check.” I looked at Alan as if to say, “is this what you agreed on?” He mouthed an “I’m sorry.” They had not discussed payment. Why should they? Any option they decide will work best for them is the only one considered.

What’s mine is his and what’s his is mine, so, I trust Alan to handle these things. But, I would’ve clarified payment instructions knowing someone was gonna drive from Oklahoma on a Sunday when the banks are closed. Had I handled it we would not be in this position right now. But I hadn’t. And now, in order to circumvent taking a risk, I have to speak the cruel truth to someone. My honest question, aside from caring for myself, implies that he is self centered, thoughtless, and thinks the world revolves around him.

The amount of energy needed to deflect the pain and anger that gets projected onto you as you as you rightfully defend yourself while being a woman is just too much for me most of the time. My caring for myself causes others pain, anger, and terrifying self-reflection; like it did for my father. My knowing that  these others have no regard for me causes me exhaustion and crushing self doubt.

Alan hadn’t tried to walk over me; I’d shrunk into the back ground of my own life. And when I’d spoken up I had been completely dismissed while standing on my own land, and handling my own business.

As a result of shrinking from inevitable pain; I’ve stuffed my soul into a tiny hole at the base of a juniper tree. I’ve broken my own jaw in order to keep my voice from eking out. I’ve compressed my spirit down into a flat sheet of paper. I’ve put myself inside a secluded garden surrounded by a fence of swords. I’ve allowed so much of my blood to flow out that my arms are too weak for embrace.

I wait for someone to find my sacred knowledge of interest. I listen carefully. Someone is there struggling to free themselves from a thicket of thorny vines growing up into a chinaberry tree. I hear them straining to escape. Last night I thought I heard them splash across the wet weather creek.

I woke up at midnight and sat on the porch crying over some long repressed wound. I hoped that the owl hooting close by would land on the railing and drop the keys to my life on the front porch. I told Alan over breakfast about having heard it and looked up its spirit meaning. “Death and new beginnings.” “The ability to see through the darkness.” I thought of the owl that fixed his eyes on us the day that our house burned to the ground over a decade ago.

I went out to feed Catalunya at 6:00am and the same owl swooped right in front of me and landed on a branch. I dropped the crate of hay and stared at it. A blue-jay attacked it’s left wing. The raptor brushed the jay away dismissively then flew to a branch of one of the giant oaks. The wingspan was like a giant kite made from a chinchilla fringed cape. I moved quickly towards it to get a better look. It sat perfectly still and allowed me to suck in its wild serenity; its eyes so perfectly round and black like ebony buttons.
Tears escaped and I no longer felt alone. I felt immense gratitude for nature’s willingness to interact with me. This owl sees me. Wants to be with me. Wants to bring me a message. He is unafraid of my truth. Something is dying. Something is being born. Something is coming.

Being in solitude has given me the space to be able to learn to care for myself. To walk in my own truth is becoming important for my well-being. If I continue to stuff back my soul she’ll disappear beneath the hot tub to be gobbled by frogs and moles. Cutting myself off from those who do not value me is not a loss. It’s a gain. Even if my only friends are owls and mountain lions, donkeys, goats, and dogs.

Now that I finally choose to be my face; the face that trusts her body for important messages, the face the animals come to see, the face that guards her own jaw, the face that sets how transactions are handled; now that I can finally be my face, I am no longer afraid of the mountain lion. I am the mountain lion.



Dad and animals, Uncategorized

Piss, Vinegar, and Gaslighting



Dad kept cattle once as a money making project. We lived in a subdivision with cul de sacs and he’d rented 50 acres about 20 minutes away for the cattle. I’d go with him to feed the cows some and he even bought me a pony. It was a welsh pony that someone had used for barrel racing. He’d paid $50 for her. White coat with blue eyes; named Bimbo.  “Daddy, what does Bimbo mean?” He mumbled something nondescript.  Now I know that it means “Named by a dude.”

Dad spent as much time teaching me the proper way to mount and ride as he’d spent teaching me how to feed the cattle. He’d given me a bucket of feed, I remember, and said, “go bring the cows in.” I tromped out, about twelve years old, alone with the bucket. I shook it and the herd of cattle ran towards me. I dropped the bucket and ran panting towards the barn. Dad walked straight past me, angry that I’d wasted the corn, and rounded up the cattle.

I roamed around unnoticed kicking dried cow dung patties and watching the smoke puff out of them until I thought it safe to return. Finally, it was my turn to try and ride Bimbo.  He put the saddle on her, hoisted me up, handed me the reigns and sent us off.  No instruction. Bimbo took off and promptly ran me under some limbs in a successful attempt to knock me off.

Back at the barn, Dad got on her and said “I’ll whip the piss and vinegar out of her.” He rode her in a circle and popped her on the butt with a crop. He didn’t beat her. There was no muscled arm pumping up and down with white knuckled force. He may not have even touched her with it; such an old memory. I recognized it as just the normal whipping or threatening to whip that the many riders of the many rodeo’s I’d attended commonly used. (My cousin was a champion bull rider)

Still, I was traumatized. I hated the way the animals were treated at the rodeo. Pinning up a giant bull until he bucks in frustration and watching a man try and prove his ability to master the beast seemed familiar.  Create frustration in the victim, then blame the victim for a natural “piss and vinegar” response to the frustration you caused.

In Arkansas, high school educators find allowing students to play basketball on the backs of donkeys inside a gym full of screaming 10th graders totally normal.  A video circulating on Facebook shows donkeys being tugged at and shoved around as if they are pieces of furniture.  As if they are objects placed on earth solely for human entertainment. The utter detachment of every single human in attendance from the feelings of the donkeys stabs at me every time. I know how the donkeys felt. Dad had shown Bimbo the same amount of regard and respect that he’d always shown me. Like all abusers,  unquestioned respect from me in return was mandatory.

My friend and I tried an exercise from a Connection Training method book.  She has a traditional horse back riding background so she was as intrigued by the material as I was.  The exercise involved one person acting as the horse and one as the trainer.

In the first iteration, she as the horse, was guided to a spot that I’d preselected for her. She was to find the spot by receiving a click each time she moved anywhere near the direction of the preselected spot. With nothing to guide her other than a click when she was on the right track, she wandered around a bit until she found it.

In the next iteration, she as the horse, was guided by my finger gently touching her in an attempt to guide her towards the preselected spot.  This method went much faster.  She was quickly able to find the spot.

Then we switched roles and went through the exercise again.  We discussed our feelings.  It was quickly clear to us that, even the smallest and most thoughtful poke of the finger was still upsetting. Also, it took much longer to get on track by allowing the “horse” to find it’s way by simply listening for the click.

We concluded that, even though it took much more time to achieve the goal with the clicker, the remaining feelings between “horse and trainer” were positive and empowering. On the other hand, using a finger poke to get it done quickly felt insulting,  degrading annoying, and negative. It fails to recognize the feelings and abilities of the poked.

Dad dismounted and walked her over to me and handed me the reins. She stepped on my foot and my toes quickly drew back into my Poll Parrot’s. I stared at the ground bleary eyed, trying not to register discomfort on my face. Didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me crying, failing, or in pain one more time that day.

My father grew up with livestock and was considered very knowledgeable. He had a way with animals. I’d seen wild deer walk straight up to him in the woods. He kept tarantulas in the laundry room.  And, he had a trained falcon which still appears here on Bohemian farm from time to time. After dad died, my uncle asked me if I’d seen Dad’s falcon.  “You mean like in The Chronicles of Valdemar- kind-of- land-on-your- arm-kind of falcon”?  Yep.

My Dad’s family was unusual to begin with. Add the fact that Dad “lied when the truth would do better” as my grandma described it, and you’ll see why I never could really trust his version of reality without first some research. He told fantastical tales of being run up a tree by a bear when he was 9.  The mythical Stradivarius, (which was just like all of the millions of other common Strads) but Dad believed it was the valuable rare kind.  Kept it in the attic.  Right Dad.  If it is what you say it is, you’d have it in a climate controlled space. Still, I took it to an authority who told me it was a very good fake label.  Probably a student violin of German origin.

But, some aspects were true.  This is how I learned about people who blur the lines between delusion and a spark of truth.

I was able to confirm the bear story. And, sure as shootin’ there are Peregrins living on Mt. Magazine. We finally figured out that the giant buff colored owl-like raptor that flew over the garden every night at dusk was actually a falcon.  We also figured out why he was sometimes blue and sometimes buff.  There’s a pair of them.

In my thirties I studied dressage basics at a barn outside of North Little Rock. I couldn’t afford my own horse and learned on one of the school horses that was boarded there.  A Palomino colored pony of Western background. I finally was taught how to properly lead and bridle and pick hooves and groom and, eventually, respectful leadership. One needed to simply to squeeze a rein or flex an inner thigh muscle in order to direct the little horse into a figure eight.

My teacher was wonderful and funny.  In an effort to help me overcome my fear of being in unprotected spaces with large animals, she teased me one day. After my lesson she handed me a bridle and said “Would you please go out into the field and catch Braveheart and lead him in”. Braveheart. Having a brave heart had only brought rejection and isolation in my experience. And, Braveheart the horse, seemed an island.

I was panic stricken but had learned how to hide it like the Marquise de Merteuil stabbing herself under the dinner table with a fork while keeping a pleasant face for the dinner guests. I forced myself to face the goliath ebony equine. I was sure that he had more piss and vinegar than Bimbo and I put together.

I tromped out as I’d done to feed the cows before and braced myself for potential humiliation. I led him in to the barn amazed that he’d complied, and she cracked up. “I can’t believe you actually did it.  I was teasing you know” she said as I led him in. I tried to solidify the inner sensation of shaking jelly.

In my fourties I went to therapy.  I saw both a traditional psychiatrist and a psychic healer. In Eureka Springs, psychic healers abound.  She went into one of her trances and saw the bear Tall Tale play out.  Later I confirmed it with my uncle who was also run up the tree.  He told me that the bear killed my Dad’s dog that day.

I’d entered therapy because I was having unexplained panic attacks. The psychic said that the fear and trauma that my father experienced in his tiny boy body that day was transferred to my DNA. Sounded like hocus-pocus then, but now we have the science to prove that it can happen. It could explain why I’m hyper vigilant to the danger posed by large animals like Catalunya. To this day, I cannot go into his pen with him.

Having been raised by a gas-lighter- narcissistic liar may explain my hyper sensitivity to bullshit. In my teens I resented having to develop the skills necessary to find truth.  I’d have preferred to develop other skills.  But now, I am thankful. My friends are confused by the current gas lighting techniques foisted upon us.  Me: “this ain’t my first rodeo”.

“You shall know the truth and it shall make you odd”.  Flannery O’Connor










“Genuine” or “precious” as in describing a gem.


Catalunya watching over Archibald

Alan hadn’t slept. I asked him what had kept him up and he couldn’t articulate it yet.  Later in the day we trundled down our long driveway past the neighbor’s house at the end. Alan pointed out a pit bull puppy lying on an old lawn chair at the neighbor’s back door. I asked “the culprit of your bad night?” His head turned towards me, eyebrows raised to say “bingo.”

The neighbor had flagged Alan down the day before and told him he was headed out again.  Driving a truck for an oil company in Texas.  The little dog had followed his pit bull home the day before.  They’d hung out in Petey’s very nice pen together and were fed and loved on. He called several friends who said they’d come take care of the puppy while he was away at work. He could only take Petey. He knew those friends would not. He was very concerned and hoped that Alan would.  Alan had not mentioned this until now.

We drove past the abandoned, emaciated puppy whose heart had been broken when Petey left him.  He didn’t even raise his head.  We discussed strategies.  We could put him on Facebook and find him a home.  Maybe so-and-so would take him.  We certainly can’t.  Zippy would have a personality crisis and Brucie would simply dominate the dog as he does all of the animals including Catalunya.

We returned with puppy food and gave him a bowl along with fresh water and took some video.  We drove past him again trying to avoid taking on another responsibility. We  subconsciously gathered cast off food bowls, collars, leashes and bedding. We gave in and went back for him; deciding that sleep was important. Neither Petey’s dad nor us would get any knowing he’s out there with nobody to look after him and coyotes howling all around.

“We’ll put him in the barn in the pen that used to be Florentina’s, right next to Abba.” I said. Abba cries every time Catalunya leaves the barn. So, we hoped she’d be comforted by the newbie, and he by her. We fluffed up his digs with some cast off blankets and pillows with flannel pillowcases.

When we entered the barn with the chocolate faced chap, Catalunya tippy-toed and bucked around the pen a bit trying to manage this new element.  He seemed naturally concerned that there was a canine near his goat.

The next morning I’d expected the foam filled pillow to be destroyed by his puppy teeth but found them neatly arranged. Humble as is was, he seemed so happy and grateful to have spent the night with companions in a place of his own .  He did not want to leave his pen or the barn just yet.  He seemed so afraid that no more food would come and that he may be discarded again.  He’d slept since 4 pm the day before. I’d kept waiting for crying and barking but it never came.

When we introduced the puppy to Abba she was very curious and seemed brightened by a potential new playmate.  They sniffed noses and rears and hopped around sweetly towards one another.  They chased around a bit, he on a leash, and Abba jumped towards him when he went too far away.  She seemed to want to be near him.  He ate grass and tried to model her behaviors.  When his puppy teeth or claws hurt, Abba did not hesitate to raise her ears like helicopter flaps and lower her head and butt him good.  Before she was constantly forced to subdue her will to that of Buckminster and Florentina. Now she is confident in defending her territory and he seems to aim to please.  I wondered if Abba remembered being cast aside by her former herd mates? Did that experience breed empathy in her towards the puppy?

The hard knock beginning seems to have heightened this little guy’s awareness of the behaviors of others around him. He learned down and sit after just a few tries to win a biscuit. He tries to adjust his natural ebullient responses into ones more subdued.  Ones that please in case he’d been too bold. His self-worth having been called into question by those who are charged with supporting it’s development.  Which is heart breaking to realize. But, his attempts to make keeping him easy on us has been very helpful for managing all the animal dynamics through the course of our day. It will be some time before we introduce him to the dogs who live in the house.

The puppy is soft and brindled and crouches and crawls on the ground when Alan approaches.  He is focused constantly on Alan’s approval and Alan generously gives it to him.  He seems to favor lying on his back with Alan rubbing beneath his chin. With me, he seems to especially love being kissed on the forehead and running towards me from a ways away as fast as he can until he smashes into me and melts into a ball in my lap. He gets a little bolder each day. Catalunya watches all of this interaction closely and paws at the fence.

The third day he became more nervy about coming out of the barn for sunshine, potty breaks and walks. Catalunya was focused on him like a laser beam. The dancing around and head shaking had ceased and he lowered his nose to the ground at the fence hoping to make contact . Maybe he remembers the smell of his own physiology after having been cast aside? Floods of adrenaline, hormones, imbalance in the diet, all have odiferous outcomes.  Catalunya notices when I wear fragrant oils or if I’ve just washed my hair.  After his initial alarm, he certainly showed empathy and curiosity  rather than aggression. Donkeys can be trained to become good guardian animals.  Catalunya takes his job of guarding Abba seriously.   He is maturing and learning to tolerate her in his area for longer periods of time each day.  His physiology is changing as his testosterone has dropped off. He is learning to enjoy her company when sharing his space more than his need to act out out when he feels territorial emotions. He seems to be easing up a bit.

The puppy, however, was intensely focused on the new-girl-next-door; me, and Alan.  He seemed either completely disinterested in Catalunya, or a little afraid of him.

Later in the day, we took him up to the outdoor goat pen and put Abba in the barren garden.  Catalunya’s pen shared a fence-line with Abba and one with puppy. Catalunya put his nose to the ground and finally the puppy felt brave enough to play and gave him some ear sniffs and puppy bites to the forehead through the fence. The donkey pressed his butt to the fence as he does when he wants Abba to groom him.  His tail stuck through the fence and the puppy played tug of war with it. He then found a small opening in the side of the fence and tried to crawl through to follow me as I walked away from the pen.  Catalunya ran to the spot and herded him away with his jaw. The puppy ran to the other side and tried and Catalunya had to run all the way around the outer edge quickly in order to corral him there. A new baby to herd.

It’s Easter now and a few weeks prior we had several waves of visitors to the farm for Spring Break.   Abba and Cat seemed to enjoy their company and one of our visitors noticed a marked difference from his visit exactly one year prior. Catalunya no longer seemed  defensive or anxious but inquisitive and soothed by the engagement. He even seemed to favor a friend’s nine-year old son; pointing his ears straight at him, walking up to him, unruffled by the normal nine year old fidgets and jerks. They’d come to boyscout camp and visit Brucie.  We’d adopted Brucie from them when my college chum’s boy was three and Brucie enjoyed hanging out with them again after all this time.

We’ve all come so far.  From Catalunya roaming free in the front yard, chasing the mailman down the driveway bawling, to my being able to enter his pen unprotected and walk around him without fear of him suddenly putting his head into my space and possibly biting me or bucking out when I’m near him.

The needy puppy has had a calming effect and the barn has never been so quiet.  And, if you’ve read my blog, you know that a quiet barn is a happy barn in my book. The pit bull is a breed that we are somewhat new to and this little fella seems a breed ambassador. 

The skills needed to survive abandonment come from trying to answer the questions “Am I not worthy of companionship, care, attention, inclusion, kisses?”  The solution becomes:  “I can arrange my personality in a way that you favor.  I can mold my natural impulses into actions crafted to please you. I will not do anything to make you or anyone want to give me up.” Helping Abba, Catalunya, Zippy, and now, Archibald move from low self-esteem to high causes me to reflect on my own self-esteem issues. I have to fix my own so that I may be whole enough to give them what my very young parents could not give me. It’s okay, they were good in other areas. And, my friends must have done a great job of fostering self esteem in Brucie. For a dog that had to be rescued from the highway, adopted from the pet store’s shelter dog drive, then rehomed to us, he certainly is not lacking in self-esteem.  I try and model his unerring belief in himself.

Alan has named the rescued puppy Archibald. I looked up the meaning of Archibald.  The word has Medieval and German elements meaning “genuine”, or, “precious” and bald meaning “bold”. (This reminds me of describing a gem)  A perfect description of  the brindled pit bull puppy in the barn. The subconscious mind holds so much knowledge and is achingly accurate. One mans trash can be another’s treasure.








Abba finds her voice

Baby goat in 79 Ford F250 truck

Abba the baby goat

I dug a spent shotgun shell out of the ground as I tried to figure it out.  What more could I do to create an environment that would make Florentina and Buckminster feel secure enough to treat Abba better? They constantly head butt her away.  She stays with them because they are all she has.  I have to forage with them in order to limit the abuse.  I walk behind them with a long bamboo pole.  I simply insert the pole between the offenders and the victim to interrupt the behavior. I try giving each of them extra attention and extra everything.  Things improve for a short time only to go back to Abba being harassed by the others again.

When the animals are quiet, they are happy.  This makes me happy.  Florentina never stops crying. I thought maybe it was because she does not have a herd.  So I got Abba in hopes that Florentina would be calmer if she had more of a herd.  But she only sees Abba as a threat to her ability to find enough food for her and Buckminster.

I got Florentina and Buckminster for Catalunya to have some company. But they only  challenge him, invade his space, take his treats and food as if everything in the world were theirs.  I’d hoped he delight in their company and share.  But he’s wishy-washy about it.Abba tried everything to win over Florentina.  She tried staying out of her way, kissing up to her, following her, but not too closely, waiting for her to exit the barn first, allowing her to come in and inspect Abba’s pen and eat whatever was left.

The way the other goats treated Abba was so heartbreaking to watch.  It reminded me of the scene in Jane Eyre, where a tiny Elizabeth Taylor plays the beautiful child stuck in a Quakerish English orphanage. The jealous crone nuns cut off her gorgeous long black curls and make her stand in the cold rain until she dies of pneumonia as a punishment for her evil temptress beauty.

I’m also reminded of the scene in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where Ashley Judd’s character is sent away to a girls school by a jealous mother tired of watching her husband treat their beautiful daughter as though she is his bride. Rather than punish the father for his inappropriate attention, the prudish and aging devoutly Catholic wife sends her daughter away.  The nuns and fellow students ostracize and torture her for having been born beautiful, sensitive and intelligent. Her beautiful hair is cut short. She is finally rescued by her dead fiancé’s mother and friends.

One day when Abba and Buckminster were in their outdoor pen, Buckminster began to headbutt and mount Abba until she was very distressed.  I was on my way to break it up when I noticed Catalunya kicking up a fuss. He was repeatedly galloping in a large circle then charging towards the fence directly at Buckminster .  He did it several times until the young goats began to walk around in circles trying to figure out what his deal was and Alan emerged from behind the potting shed wondering the same.

After Catalunya had made about six laps, Abba began to charge the fence straight towards Catalunya at the exact same moment that Catalunya was charging straight towards them.  We all came to understand that what he was doing was for her. Their noses met at the fence and they both cut to the left at the exact same time. She began to boing down the fence line in exact synchronicity with Catalunya’s galloping.  Her hoofs hit the ground at the exact same time that his hooves hit the ground. Their rhythms became one. This was quite something as obviously their legs are of very different length. This animal behavior display that was so fascinating that we could not stop watching long enough to grab our cameras.

Finally, Catalunya stood calmly with his butt to the fence. Buckminster pranced around bewildered and Abba sprung about with a glow; buoyed by Catalunya’s gallant support.  We looked at one another in amazement.

I was so upset by Abba’s treatment from Florentina (and Buckminster following suit) and by the fact that I was unable to find a way to resolve it, that I sold Florentina to a nice lady with a huge farm full of cows, pigs, and other goats.  The lady agreed to take Buckminster as well.  I hoped that having each other would lessen the trauma of having to integrate into a new group. They were not bad goats.  Florentina was smart, brave, affectionate, a great leader and stellar mother. She hated her utters touched but still did well on the milkstand that Alan built.  Buckminster was loyal, curious, and loved to get on the milkstand too.  I’d let him get up there  like his Mommy and eat grain while I clipped his hooves.  He loved to be groomed. But, the underdogs need to be championed, so; Abba stays.

With the other two gone, Abba’s voice became louder and clearer.  She’s not a big complainer.  She used to only cry after Florentina cried.  She never initiated.  She always bowed to the lead goat; tried not to be a bother, tried limiting the light and the love that she naturally offered to the others and wanted from them, in order to avoid getting headbutted out of the way. I saw the light going out of her eyes and I knew that feeling of suppression.

But now her communications are more complex. On the first day that Abba was without the other goats, she let out a descending scale of meh-eh-eh-eh-wah-ah-ah-ah, then a step down the scale meh-eh-eh-eh-wah-ah-ah-ah, then a step down with each new phrase: meh-eh-eh, meh-eh-eh, meh -eh-eh-eh, meh-eh-eh. Like a great  back up singer. When Catalunya entered the barn she quieted down. I stayed with her for a long time and brushed her and fluffed her pen.  She leaned into my hand when I scratched around her horns.

Catalunya watches over her but chases her out if she comes in his fenced area. At night he stands in front of her pen and stares straight in. She learns quickly and stays near but respects his space.

Now he tries to eat her ear through the fence during play. They run up and down the fence line and he suddenly stops, moves his rear to the fence for her to groom his legs. When she’s tired of his hind end she headbutts him through the fence until he turns around and pays attention to her.

Abba needs help foraging now more than ever.  The only green things are the privet chutes above the previously goat mauled line and honeysuckle vines who’ve woven themselves into the tops of the trees to catch the light. I bend down the branches and she leans into me and allows me to scratch her hips as she snaps off the twigs with her little fish teeth and rolls the leaves between her lips until they are devoured. When it’s cold I just put the forage in her pen and Catalunya,  suddenly acquiring a taste for privet, pulls some of her forage through the pen and eats it.   She shares. Whatever she’s having, he’s having too.

The sounds of their chewing in place of Catalunya’s anxious squeaks and Abba’s lonely bleats lets me know that they are content. Their happiness is so palpable.  It is the most satisfying feeling knowing that one can create contentment, confidence, and a feeling of security for others.  It is a way to create it for myself.  All of the things that I longed for when I was their age (they are both toddlers). I used to dream that I had a big brother who would protect me.  Catalunya teaches me how to champion others who are vulnerable and how to champion myself. Creating a loving space for Abba and seeing how it has helped her to find her voice reminds me of those who’ve helped me in finding mine.

Catalunya the donkey

The moon in Equus

1940's Merck Veterinary Manual

Grandpa’s Veterinary Medicine Manual

Something was wrong.  I’d felt it and gone out to check on him at 4 am. He did not rise to meet me. I’d noticed that he’d had a little hitch in his giddy-up the day before. Now he could barely walk when he finally stood. He was hobbling and picking up his front left hoof. I posted a frantic HELP on Facebook.

I called my friend Laurie McCarthy who lives at the base of Mt. Magazine and keeps horses.  She flew over, coffee in hand, pink paddock boots on foot at 6 am and helped me take some video and photos of his condition. She is a wonderful and experienced calming force who’s equine background I could rely on.

Some weeks earlier a fellow equine Mom and friend, Beverly Taylor, had referred me to a farrier who is an acquaintance. She uses a holistic approach to hoof care.

Sarah Alishire is a natural farrier who has a great deal of knowledge. There are many out there, but I’d followed her posts and liked the way she communicates about her horses and her attitudes towards care.  How a person handles communication helps me to pre-determine how they will communicate with my animals. Sarah knows how to wait for the animal to feel confident enough to participate in his care rather than forcing it. There is no forcing Catalunya into anything.

When I called Sarah I could tell quickly from the questions that she asked that she was the one! She asked me what I feed him. Some may wonder what that has to do with his hooves, but I’d researched and knew that she was trying to determine if it was laminitis, an abscess, or if he was foundering or colicking from having been fed the wrong diet.  I sent her the photos that Laurie took and she thought that she saw white line disease and that she could definitely help.

I’d left an hysterical message for Dr. Moon early.  He sleepily called me back. He hadn’t even left for his office yet. He asked me questions trying to determine if it was colic or founder or hoof related. I didn’t understand some of his questions due to my lack of experience and couldn’t convince him to leave his practice and come out right away. He was not convinced that it was not something for the farrier.

“So, what on earth am I going to do?” I thought. “How will Sarah be able to work on Catalunya safely?” He knows “knee” and “foot” and “pick it up”. But it’s going to take months to train him to stand calmly for a stranger while his feet are worked on.  I’ve only worked with him through the safety of the fence and he still kicks me sometimes when he becomes insecure.

He will have to be tranquilized in order to have this situation relieved. So, if we’re going to have to put him under, may as well have him castrated at the same time. I did not want him to experience anesthesia twice.

I asked Sarah to communicate with Dr. Moon on my behalf and to schedule the castration when he comes for the visit.  I hired her to do his feet and be sort of the producer for the procedures.  She knows about castration, the various conditions that could be at play, and she could answer Dr. Moon’s questions and assist him in the procedure.

Sarah got it done and the date was set for two days away.   We would have to continue to watch him suffer like this and it was the middle of July. Nothing like having a gaping wound that you want to heal quickly in the hottest part of the summer. All kinds of infections love warm moist environments and the flies are horrendous.  He will suffer more after the procedure.  Ugh.

But, all of the experts say that in order for him to become a good barnyard buddy, he’ll have to be castrated. Most rescues won’t accept in tact males except for the ones rounded up for the government and they are sent to a specialist. Whom I spoke to a few days after Catalunya’s arrival.

After obsessing for 24 hours about how in the hell this was gonna work without a rodeo or a dart-gun, I began to ready Catalunya for what was to come. During our training that day I’d asked him to bring me his tail.  He’d arranged his back legs so that his rump bumped into my target hand. I took syringes that have no needles and pushed them into his thickly hided rump. I’d asked Alan to remove one of the 14ft cattle gates from his second turn out pen and to re-set it on a post inside his barn corral. This way  when he comes in for food we can get on the other side of the gate and slowly close it while moving him into what would create a narrow chute with the hayloft on one side and the long gate on the other. He’ll be pinned in so that Dr. Moon can administer the anesthesia.

It worked. He walked in. We all moved in; me, Sarah, Dr. Moon, and his 14 year old son. Alan and Sarah’s daughter, stayed on the outside of the surgery area ready to locate a wrench or rope or caribeener or whatever I’d missed from obsessing about the surgical area all night. I’d hung extra lighting, gathered gloves from my hair coloring kit, raked the straw nice and smooth, and filled a cooler of cold drinks. It was sweltering.

He struggled a little as we closed him in but he had been in so much pain for the past three days that he was worn out. He was ready for anything to change his situation. Dr. Moon got the shot in quickly and in just a few seconds Catalunya was knocked out.  Dr. Moon’s son lied on his neck in case he woke up. Sara quickly did his feet while Dr. Moon did the castration. Catalunya’s goat buddies peeked through the walls and didn’t let out a sound in reverent support.

Catalunya castration

Veterinary Procedure Donkey Castration

My goals for the day were to keep me and my family safe and to be able to give Catalunya the care he needs and deserves. Nothing more; not gonna teach him dressage, nothing less; not gonna let an animal who has come to us for help continue to suffer on our watch.

The sense of relief when the procedure was over was uplifting. After a successful production, we all hung out and shared stories like you do on a film set after the martini shot is in the can. Dr. Moon was very engaging and so special. He and his son have mules and horses and hunt elk and pack on their mules.  They and Sarah shared equine treatments, procedures and strategies. The teenagers hung out. I was so grateful and happy for their skill and successful communication that I gave Dr. Moon my grandfather’s Veterinary Medicine book from the 1940’s to show my appreciation.

Before he left, Dr. Moon explained that he’d double clamped the arteries and to watch for pooling blood.  Dripping is normal, pooling is not. “So, now I get to obsess on him bleeding to death” my inner voice said.

Catlunya had a rough recovery and Alan I were distraught again. After sometime, it seemed that the problem was balancing on his newly shaped hooves coupled with the pain of the of his incision site rubbing against his inner thigh with each step. One hoof has a deep hole in it.  Possibly eaten away by white line disease. It seemed to have something in it and bothered him more than the others. He was still hobbling and drunk on pain killers and anesthesia. He would not allow us to come near him in order to check his wound site or hoof.

Finally, that afternoon we both approached him while he was standing up.  He came over to us, Alan with the treat bowl and I with the hoof pick.  I asked him to pick it up and he did.  I was able to quickly gouge out a small stone form the cavity in his hoof and Alan was able to administer the treat quickly. He seemed greatly relieved after that and things started to trend towards the positive.

The next day I noticed a white, foamy pool of what I guessed was puss. I noticed the incision site on the right side was full of puss. For our training that day I asked him to bring me his belly.  He arranged himself so that I could touch his belly through the fence. He allowed me to apply a cloth that I’d soaked with peroxide and then allowed me to apply a charcoal based wound powder on the incision site.  Stood perfectly still while I cared for his wound.  When he is ready for his environment to be improved, he allows care.

All of our training up to this point, (224 days in a row at the day of his procedure) went a long way in making that day possible. He allowed me to care for this very painful wound in a very sensitive area for weeks until it healed.  Our bond went to a new level that day. The moon was in Equus that day.



Whether to wether

It is time to decide whether or not Buckminster will be allowed to grow into a buck or have to be castrated and become a wether. Having your own buck is handy come Thanksgiving when your girls are in heat.  Otherwise, you have to take the girls on a date with the buck, wherever he is, in November or December. Right during the holidays.

But, keeping a buck can be a real pain.  They pee and slobber on themselves and stink to high heaven and have to be separated.  A wether is less  valuable, when it comes to earning his keep, but much easier to manage.Buckminster Baby Goat
Buckminster and Me


I posted for vet recommendations on goat oriented Facebook groups and watched a million goat-centric Youtube videos. One way of castrating a baby goat is by banding.  It’s so simple that 4H youth can do it.  It is considered acceptable and humane. I watch a video of a woman and young child banding a baby goat. The baby stiffens as if it’s made of glass and falls over as if it’s dead.  After a little while it gets up and bounds off.

A stiffening body that falls straight over is a body that is trying to deal with severe trauma in my perception. The word shattered comes to mind. There has to be another way. What is an accepatble standard of animal treatment by others has always been problematic for me.  Especially growing up.

Some of my research reveals threads of people discussing taking their buckling to a city vet for castration only to have the baby die from anesthesia. A rural vet, accustomed to livestock, would know better than to administer anesthesia.  A good vet with very fast hands seems to be the method that will spare him the most trauma.

Asking a vet in a rural area to leave his practice to drive out to the middle of nowhere to castrate a baby goat shows how little I know.  I may as well have asked them if they had any massage appointments open for a buffalo.

I called Dr. Moon and his office said he can simply perform the procedure in the back of the truck. His practice works mostly with livestock. But, he was the first vet that I took our rescue bird dog, Zippy, to. I found Zippy in a ditch in 14 degree weather with a cluster of tumors on his head and a bad back leg. I’ve met almost every vet within a 3 hour radius and Dr. Moon correctly diagnosed the cause of the leg and honestly said he did not know what was on his head.  Neither did the surgeon, Dr. Dew, who did the procedure.  So, while I didn’t exactly connect with Dr. Moon, I trusted him and easily recognized him as having some sort of special talent for what he does.

I took Florentina along so that Buckminster could remain calm on the ride. They have never been apart.  I was so upset about the pain that hewould have to endure but I sucked it up and continued on. I remembered how I had looked exactly like  Melissa Gilbert’s Laura Ingalls Wilder depicted in the television show Little House on the Prairie when I was in the 6th grade. Same pigtails, buck teeth with a split and homemade clothes. I hoped to muster her prairie girl courage. “Buck up half pint”.  “Yes sir, pa.”

Dr. Moon came out to the truck with two nurses.  He gave the baby a deadening shot to the area.  Then, in two fast razor slices it was over.  The baby let out two cries and Florentina lowered her head at one of the nurses holding him, presenting her full rack. “That Mamma goat’s about to put a whoopin’ on you” said one of them. The nurses had already drawn blood and taken fecal samples from both of them.

Dr. Moon reminds me of Sam Shephard when he plays a character in one of his own plays or films. (Shepard was still alive at this time) His precision and speed made for the least amount of trauma for my boy. I drove home with the two goats in the back of the 4-runner feeling grateful and relieved; the theme to Little House On The Prairie playing in my head. “Good job half pint” my imaginary father says.  “Thanks pa.” I say in Melissa Gilbert’s voice.

The next day while I was cleaning out the back of the 4 -runner I found what looked like a little piece of rabbit fur. Alan walked up as I realized it belonged to Buckminster.  I cried again and felt queasy at the thought of his pain ridden groin. Alan hugged me until I was better. It was tough on him too. He grew up with cats.