The shadows of cranes, vultures, and eagles coast across the ground of our hobby farm, and at night the lonely cries of whippoorwills float through the air like ghosts through fog and mist. It’s hard not to be charmed by the nature thumping all around us. That’s one reason we moved to the country, to be surrounded by the thumping of nature, and to have horses, and butterfly gardens, and grandchildren, and quiet weekends in the fresh air—surrounded by the thumping, of course.
Country living is like having an obsessive-compulsive hobby. We don’t raise corn, or soybeans, or veal. A hobby farm is a lot like a black hole—stuff (like money) goes in but nothing (like money) comes out.
One of the horses in our stable is an old sickle-hocked gelding in an advanced stage of aging, or as I like to say, “He has two good legs, one bad leg, and one hoof on a banana peel.” Once, he was a boy horse, but now he’s a gelding with a high pitched whinny, arthritic hips, and sheath issues.
Sometimes he needs his sheath cleaned.
One fragrant country spring I said, “I think that it’s time to clean old Sonny the horse’s sheath.”
The sun drifted over the barn like a fried egg. Flies buzzed in groggy, dopey circles. Horses pooped.
My husband looked suspicious, his hands clenched around a pitchfork.
“His sheath,” I repeated, leaning against the barn door and waving my hand vaguely in the direction of the paddock. “Think, sword and scabbard, you know, like pirates when they fight.”
His knuckles started to resemble bloodless doorknobs.
“Scabbard! Sheath! What are you talking about?”
“You know the thing that the sword goes into—the scabbard—the thing that protects the sword, the thing the sword slides into and ‘poof’ disappears.”
I pantomimed putting an invisible sword into an invisible scabbard. “Sonny’s scabbard (i.e. his sheath) needs cleaning.”
Frown lines creased my husband’s forehead. Leaning on the pitchfork like a D.O.T. worker on break and standing in a mound of horse droppings, the slow light of understanding crept into his face. Horror etched harsh lines under his eyes.
He looked at the old grouch of a horse napping in the shade next to the barn, and said, “You can’t possibly mean . . .”
He bit his lip. I detected the glint of a single tear in his eye.
He continued, “That someone has to reach up and . . . grab or clean . . . inside his . . . with what? And how? And more importantly for the love of all that’s decent, why?”
“Because boy horses, who are geldings, get waxy gick buildup if you don’t clean their . . .”
“Yea, yea, yea, pirate sword.” His sarcasm hid despair and mild panic. “I get it.”
Sonny slapped at one boney hip with his tail and farted.
“Now there are a couple of ways that we can do this. Wait until he goes to the bathroom and drops his . . .”
“I am not standing out here waiting for that old grump to pee.”
“Or you can go up in there and grab it.”
The horror spread from my husband’s hands to his face to his body. His limbs went rigid. He dropped the pitchfork. His fists flew to his mouth, and through gritted teeth asked, “Clean it with what?”
“Well, there’s Vaseline, or warm soapy water, or . . .”
At that moment, Sonny decided to drop his sword and urinate.
Snapping to attention, I yelled, “Hurry, Babe, run for the Vaseline.” He froze like a rabbit staring into a rattlesnake den.
“Hurry! Now’s our chance.”
I rolled up my sleeves.
My husband turned and stumbled into the gloom of the barn like a man planning to boil water for an emergency birth on a kitchen table.
“And, Honey,” I yelled. He looked back. “Don’t forget the rubber gloves.”
We’re hobby farmers. So we can have horses, and butterfly gardens, and grandchildren, and quiet weekends in the country, and to be up to our elbows in the thumping of nature, of course.