Monday, January 17, 2011

In Which We Acquire a Horse and I Learn the Contemplative Art of Mucking

On Shabbat afternoon, I loaded up the CR-V, and with Umbrae riding shotgun, I headed out on the open road down to Ragamuffin Ranch. The Engineering Geek had returned to Ragamuffin House for Shabbat on Friday, and now it was my week to be at the ranch and his week to work on the house.

I had come down with a cold, and was not at all sure that I wanted to go down. But once I left the freeway and was driving down through the Malpais, and then across the high plain of the Continental Divide, I decided that all was most well. In our part of the world, the car commercials are true to life, and being the only car on the road is a frequent experience.

This week at Ragamuffin Ranch, besides the work of moving more boxes and taking care of details, I was arriving check in hand, to purchase Reeds Shiny Eyes, a five-year old registered Quarter horse, better known as Badger. (We also purchased a bull, a ranch truck complete with generator and winch, and a few other sundry items, but I am mainly here to talk about the important purchase).

Badger is a gentle, well-trained gelding. He comes when he is called, stands patiently so that the rider can open a gate without dismounting, stands when the rider dismounts to take care of a cow, and takes care of his rider. A few weeks ago, when Cowboy J.'s wife Nurse A., was mounting, the saddle slipped, and he stood through that, too. This is the kind of horse that will actually help teach the CIT to do cowboy work.

Yesterday, as part of moving out, Nurse A. has stepped out on the porch, tested the wind and checked the temperature (both mild), and decided that it was the day to muck out the entire barn and back pasture. The CIT and I decided to participate as an educational project called Learning by Doing. It has been years since I participated in mucking, and I am older now, so I came armed with an ergonomic mucking rake, a garden rake, a gravel shovel and two mucking buckets. Cowboy J. and Nurse A., however, have been housing four equines and have had little time to keep up with mucking--what with the move and all--and so it was not quite the Augean stables, but we estimated four cart-loads of muck would need to be hauled away to the compost. But the day sunny, the snowmelt was proceeding apace, and a warm breeze was blowing up from southern Arizona. And so we started to work.

Rake a mixture of hay, manure and sawdust into a pile, switch garden implements, and shovel the pile into the cart hooked up to the ATV. Muscles happy to move, and the sweet scent of humus rising in the warm air, the sunshine warm on my back. Do it again. Stop every now and again to watch a hawk rising lazily on thermals above the mesas, take a deep breath and give thanks for being alive on such a day. Rake. Shovel. Pause. Let the CIT handle heavy buckets, and every now and again, give Tommy the Ranch Dog a pat. Soon, in the drowsy warmth (nearly 60 degrees at 7500 feet, don't let the snow on the north-facing hills fool you), I caught the rhythm of the work, and that sense of pondering that accompanies certain kinds of work transformed me. And for the day, it didn't matter to me if governments were falling, oil prices rising, and mayhem ensuing: I am mucking. All other thoughts were merely passing clouds, almost unnoticed, outside of me.

My mind and body slow down every time I cross the Catron County line. People are comfortably solid here. Sales are made on a handshake, and opening an account at the propane company comes with a 40 minute conversation aimed at repairing the world country-style, by telling stories and beginning a cautious relationship that has potential far beyond the sale and delivery of propane. The manager of the propane office is a neighbor; the school-bus driver who picks the CIT up every morning over McKinley Ranch Road is also the school librarian and the owner of the local gas station and convenience store. Among the Big Men in Trucks (a la Jon Katz) who gather around the woodstove and Y and A Auto is a 90 year-old Navy Vet who can tell you the whole history of the county, and who has lived about half of it.

Ninety. Good clean living, I suppose. Out in the air and the sunshine. It is not that there isn't stress here, but when you move more slowly and stop to watch the hawk, time telescopes and stretches out. And in such space-time, it really does one well to slow down in telling one's own story, to become circumspect. There is lots of time for people to learn who you are. No need to create a rushed first impression. So I listened as the Big Men in Trucks solved the worlds problems as they drank cups of coffee and welcomed the CIT into their midst while I bought a chain saw. I was quiet while they gave the CIT a demonstration on how to use the Stihl saw. And while Nurse A. was instructing him on the finer points of grooming Badger--who loves a good brushing on the rump--I stopped and took in January sun on my face, the warm wind from the southwest, the coyotes crossing Cemetery Hill, and the hawk, stooping to catch lunch on the mesa.

Who need an afterlife? This is the life we are living right here and right now. This is G-d's country. And so, like cleaning for Pesach, mucking becomes another time for pondering, for getting into flow.


Retriever said...

So happy for you, dear Elisheva! And you're right about Badger. Hope he proves a faithful, hardworking, loving member of the family.

Melora said...

Wow! So many changes! Your ranch sounds wonderful. And a Horse! I had horses when I was young, and they Do soothe the soul. And how great that your CIT has found path he loves that fits his gifts! I look forward to reading more about your new life. said...

A book! I demand a book on this experience. With your style and such skill at telling, I know it would be a wonderful read.

You already have several installments. Although I plan to read your stories (adventures) all that I can, I would definately purchase a book.

Hope you meet a lot of good people and learn about all your animals, if you haven't alrerady.

Take care and be careful.

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