Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Take that, you elk you!

I used to like elk a lot more than I do now. 

I've had no beef with them (so to speak) for 20 winters. They haven't bothered me much (we did have a brief battle over just who had rights to my apple trees, but that's done and over with) and so I leave them alone. I don't hunt them or eat them.

Not anymore. No more Ms. Nice Gal.

This winter for the first time a crowd of cow elk decided to hop over the 5' tall horse panel fencing that surrounds my compound and help themselves to the horse hay. Once they start that kind of a thing, they won't stop if there's any chance of even one more mouthful of the fruits of somebody else's labor. 

The culprits scouting out the crime scene
(photo taken in low light before sunrise, that's why so blurry)
(Oh, and the bent horse fence is from a tree falling on it, not from elk)
I don't have a hay barn. Ever since I got my first horse back in the mid-1970s I've lusted for a big barn with lots of hay storage, a barn I could park a truck in or a flatbed trailer if I wanted to get it out of the rain or snow. A place for horses to get out of extreme weather if they wanted.  Other gals might look longingly at ads for Manolo Blahnik strappy torture heels, but me, I lust for a barn. 

I guess I've been lucky all these years. The elk have never bothered the hay before. Sometimes I'd stack it and leave it without the tarp. I got spoiled, I guess.

Not any more, that's for sure. 

After the first raid on the hay, I became diligent about covering it at night.  But the elk just rooted under the bottom edges of the tarp even though I had liberally bungee corded it down.

Then I leaned wood pallets over the sides of the stack. The elk just knocked the pallets over or pushed them aside, whatever was easiest. In the process, they stomped on the pallets and broke a bunch of slats. The stack was at the end of the horse trailer, under the bull nose. Those blankety-blank elk had no problem walking underneath to get at the hay from that side, too.

The pallet in the lower right was tossed there by the elk.
When the toll on the hay got too high, I decided to get serious. I use the area under the bull nose to store things that I don't want getting wet (no barn for that, right?). I decided to block that space in, to give up on unloading the hay from the pickup (no sacrifice there), and instead to back the truck with the hay into the space between the horse trailer and the big utility truck that I've been meaning to get rid of for some time but never have since it's full of junk stuff I need to go through before rehoming.

Which I did. Back the truck up, I mean - certainly not go through the boxes and boxes in the truck. Why rush it? The boxes have been in there for 20 years, they can wait a little longer. So the next step was to block off access to the back of the pickup, to the underneath of the bull nose, and, well, to everywhere I could think of that an elk could sneak through.

It took me half a day to get it all set up, but last night the elk were unable to get into the hay. YAY! It's a trial for me to get to the hay, too, but oh well. 

The pickup backed in and blocked in.
Installment being inspected by Joe.

Pallets around the bull nose, tarp inside to discourage elk from reaching over

Entry to the fortress, blocked off at night of course.
Yes, yes, I know it's a hokey job. But it's temporary, okay? Any day now I'll get a barn.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A beautiful day

Life is about contrast. The light can't be appreciated if there is no dark. It's true in music, it's true in all art, it's true in life.

Joe in the snow  December 2015 Lif Strand
This morning we woke up to 3" of snow, a welcome sight in a dry year. We - my dog Joe and I - just had to go walking in the white stuff after feeding the horses. The sun broke through the clouds and made sparkles on the snow. The blue, blue sky was suddenly clear. Coyote and jackrabbit footprints broke the pristine surface. Birds scattered little plumes of white, fluffing their feathers as if they were enjoying a bath in a warm summer pool.

Joe was cheerful, even slightly goofy, as he can get when he's not "on duty" as a livestock guardian dog. He really enjoys our walks. He lags behind me, his attention diverted by some interesting smell, then barrels on by to get in front, because he seems to think that's where he should always be. He's always on the lookout, of course. He's never really off duty, not in his mind. But he allows a little fun to come into the job when we walk.

Joe deciding what to do about the neighbor's cows that have strayed onto his property
December 2015 Lif Strand  
Joe had surgery just a few days ago.  The vet removed two lumps on Monday and yesterday morning she called with the biopsy results: one lump was a perianal adenoma mass, removed with good margins. Joe is over ten years old. I never got him neutered even though I never bred him. However, hormones aggravate this type of cancer, so Joe was neutered when she removed the tumor. 95% of the time that's all it takes to ensure that kind of cancer doesn't come back.

However the other lump was a mastocytoma (mast cell tumor). It wouldn't have been discovered till much later if I hadn't seen the growth on his tail and brought him in.  The tumor was on a testicle, not visible but the vet discovered it when she examined him the week before. That's the good news, because it means there's a chance we caught it early even though it's a fast growing tumor. The bad news is that it's a mast cell tumor. It's not going away on its own.

So now the hard part comes. Without treatment the vet said Joe would have weeks to a few months to live and it wouldn't be pretty. With treatment there's a chance that Joe would not only get a longer life, but that it would be a better quality life. It's expensive, the drug. Of course it is. But it isn't chemotherapy, the side effects are usually not a big problem to deal with and it's quite effective in many cases.  No way to know if it will be in Joe's case of course, but....

But none of that is the hard part.

The hard part is knowing that Joe is a short-timer. My logical brain points out that he's a senior citizen now. He's got other health issues and his age alone means his time is limited.

My heart says no, no, no, never leave me Joe.

Joe on alert December 2015 Lif Strand
Joe, of course, knows nothing about biopsies and diagnoses and prognoses. He lives in the now.

We humans are the ones tortured by knowing what the future could bring. Joe is happy to do his job, to eat a meal, to go for a walk, to rest his head on my arm when I'm typing so maybe I will get up and get him a treat. But I wrestle with fear of what is to come.

When it gets bad it will be hard to remember the good times. But today is not then.

I owe it to Joe to not mess up his now with my fear of the future. My job isn't to deny what will come - that's just not possible for me anyway - but to allow the contrast between that knowing and the pleasure of what I still have today make this beautiful day all the more beautiful.