Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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December 07, 2008 - View Single Entry

The early morning rain did not bode well for horse-trekking through the state forest, and the afternoon forecast wasn't so great either, but "I'm going," thought I. Tomorrow's forecast was much better, and ditto the day after tomorrow's, but tomorrow and the day after tomorrow the shotgun shooters would be out again. I much prefer the probability of getting wet to the possibility of getting shot. I did have an offer of a trailer ride for Monday or Tuesday, but trailering from old barn to new barn abridges the transition, like flying from the East Coast to the West Coast: you get to where you're going with no sense of the territory between one place and the other, and no time to take it all in.

So at 10:15 Allie was saddled, bridled, and ready to go. Travvy was settled in Allie's soon-to-be-former stall, reasonably content with a squeaky clam and the Jolly Ball he had inherited from Pernod. Travvy played with it, Pernod didn't, so it was ipso facto now Travvy's toy. It was still drizzling as Allie and I passed along the western boundary of Thimble Farm, where a dent-and-twisted blue kiddie pool was lying on the dirt-and-turf road that leads down to Duarte's Pond. Whose was it and what was it doing there? Damned if I know. It elicited multiple snorts from Miss Allie and an unspoken request from me that Miss Allie not spook into the six strands of electrified wire immediately to our right. On the old wagon road that passes below the Shabazians' back pasture Allie was jig-jig-jigging as if trolls were lurking in the brush behind us. All five Shabazian horses were standing out in the rain, despite the availability of dry shelter.

We trotted a lot on the trail that winds through the woods up to the state forest. I haven't ridden all that much this fall, and Allie isn't in peak condition, but Allie wanted to go-go-go so we moved right along. By the time we emerged into a wide-open fire lane of the state forest, the rain was slacking off. By the time we picked up the old Doctor Fisher road, it had stopped. (The state forest, for those of you who haven't walked, biked, ridden, or rollerbladed through it, is laid out on a grid. The major fire lanes are either north–south or east–west. The old Doc Fisher road is one of the rare tracks that continues on a diagonal for more than a few hundred feet. Lucky for me, its diagonal tends generally southwest, the direction I was headed in. Pretty soon I was riding along the backside of the Sheriff's Meadow field where Travvy and I often walk, and Misty Meadows, and the dojo -- all familiar terrain from my years at Crow Hollow Farm and numerous rides to and from the Ag Hall. I exited the state forest on a minor but distinct trail that winds down toward the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, which I crossed in order to turn down Dan'l's Way. I blew off a couple of NO TRESPASSING and PRIVATE DRIVEWAY signs on the way, confident that I and other horsefolk had a bye from the relevant parties.

At a rapid four-beat walk we covered the last few yards of our journey and arrived at Allie's new home. The two-stall barn -- not quite a barn, since it's adjacent to the house -- isn't visible from the road, though the pasture is. Megan, new barnmate, was already there. She put Sweetie, her 20-year-old Arab mare, into the smaller back part of the pasture. I put Allie into the larger front part. They squealed at each other rather dramatically. We gave them each a flake of hay. The squealing stopped. Megan gave me a ride back to my old barn, where I set about gathering my stuff and loading it into the truck. En route back to the new barn I stopped at home so Trav could have lunch. It was nearly 2:30. He usually has lunch around 11. When we returned to New Lane, Allie and Sweetie were standing companionably side by side with the fence between them. Good sign. I put a lead on Allie's halter. Megan took down the rails between front pasture and back. No squealing. I took Allie's lead off and we left the two mares to get further acquainted. Megan went home.

After unloading my stuff, I picked out Allie's stall and put a bale of fresh shavings in. By then it was just about time to feed supper. My first thought was to feed each girl in her stall, and close the outside doors so they couldn't steal each other's food. Sweetie nixed that: when I closed the bottom half of her door with Allie nowhere in sight, she got frantic. I opened the door. Allie wanted nothing to do with her stall under any circumstances. When I closed the bottom door, she seemed to be thinking of jumping over it. When I opened the door, she bolted out. After several attempts to coax her into her stall, I put most of her hay out in the pasture. Sweetie, I'm pretty sure, ate most of Allie's grain -- which isn't much, so I wasn't worried.

My writers' group meets nearby, so when we dispersed around 9 p.m. I went over to see how the girls were doing. Sweetie was standing in her stall, looking out. Allie was out in the field. She came over to see me.

When she moved to Malabar Farm, she was so freaked out by the low ceilings -- at Crow Hollow the roof above the center aisle was three stories high -- that she peed while on the crossties. After that she settled in pretty quickly. Here's hoping she does likewise this time.



December 06, 2008 - View Single Entry

Weather permitting, I'm moving Allie to a new barn tomorrow. The forecast is less than promising -- rain and snow showers in the morning, snow and rain showers in the afternoon, chance of precipitation 90 percent -- but the move involves a ride from the northeast corner of the state forest to the southwest corner, and there's no way I'm doing that with shotguns going off in all directions. There's no hunting on Sundays, so tomorrow it is; either tomorrow or a week from tomorrow, or bum a ride from someone with a trailer.

Late this afternoon there was no bang-bang in the woods near where Allie's lived for the last five years, so Allie, Trav, and I set out for a short ride, up the right fork, left along the perimeter of George Fisher's field. Allie's ears perked forward as we approached the wire fence: the field had acquired a new occupant since we passed this way two days ago, a striking bright chestnut pony with a flaxen mane and tail and blaze orange ribbons braided into her mane. Trav was intrigued too, at least until the pony chased him out of her field, whereupon he fled squealing, sounding for all the world like Rhodry in similar situations.

We continued on our way, along a narrow trail until it met a wider path coming down from the M.V. Land Bank's Tisbury Meadows property. There we hung a left, and a little while later another left, to head back toward the barn via the left fork, when what did we see approaching through the darkening woods but the bright chestnut pony with the flaxen mane and tail, trailed by a hunter whose blaze orange vest and cap matched the ribbons in the pony's mane. Eh wot?

It took a moment to register that despite their matching garb the hunter and the pony were not together. I dismounted, watched the pony approach, and got hold of her halter when she was in range. The obvious solution seemed to be to get the pony back to George Fisher's field. I had Allie's reins in my right hand and the pony's halter in my left. The hunter had Travvy in his left hand and his rifle in his right. Off we went down the trail, left and then left again, till we reached the wire fence surrounding George Fisher's field. Dilemma: The fence is electrified, and there was no gate in sight. There's a gate at the next corner, I said, and we followed the fence to the right. Correction: There used to be a gate at that corner. The hunter agreed to hold the pony while I rode the fence perimeter in search of a gate, and en route hailed George Fisher's house (the only one in the immediate area) to see if we could get some help.

My wildcard puppy was great. He didn't even vanish when we passed near the spot where the compellingly attractive (to him) deer remains had lured him off the trail twice before. The lights were on in the Fishers' house, but no vehicle in the drive, and no one answered my hollering. I did find a gate in the fence; not a gate exactly, but a place where the top wire had an insulated handle at the end of it. This was obviously the exit/entrance used by Bruce, whose two draft horses graze the field all summer. I continued counterclockwise along the fence line. It was trail for a little ways, then it was bushwhacking through the underbrush. Hunter and pony were waiting where we'd left them. Hunter left his rifle propped against a tree, and leading the pony he followed Allie and me through the scrub. I told him he was awfully good with the pony; did he spend much time around horses? None at all, he said.

It was getting dark and darker. We reached the gate, which wasn't as easy to manage as I'd hoped. The top wire had a handle, but the bottom two wires -- more like electrified tape, but at least the middle one didn't shock me when I tapped it -- were tied to rings screwed into the post. We did manage to get the pony back into the field. The gate secured, we headed back through the undergrowth. I didn't want Travvy to get the pony excited, so I held his collar in my left hand and Allie's reins in my right. Allie was getting a little sick of this bushwhacking and kept crowding me to the left. This made it too hard to keep hold of Trav, so I let him go. I tripped and fell. Allie didn't step on me. We carried on.

By the time we got back to our starting point, the pony was loose again. It was seriously dark. I told the hunter that I'd call Communications as soon as I got back to the barn. I'm Susanna, I said. His name was Jamie; he already knew Allie's name and Travvy's. Neither of us knew the pony's name. Jamie headed down the path toward the sand quarry where his truck was parked. I headed down the right fork toward the barn. Travvy had gone AWOL. Finding a dog in the dark was hopeless; either Trav would find his way home or he wouldn't. I needed to call Communications and let Animal Control know there was a bright chestnut pony with flaxen mane and tail wandering around in the woods near George Fisher's field.

I called Communications. Jurisdiction in this corner of the island is unclear: Malabar Farm is in Vineyard Haven, its neighbors to one side are in West Tisbury, and its neighbors to the other side are in Oak Bluffs. George Fisher's field is in Vineyard Haven, but it was Joanie Jenkinson, ACO for West Tisbury, who called back for the details. Travvy returned to the barn, tail wagging and brown goo on his neck ruff. I had a hunch he'd gone in search of his favorite deer carcass. I was ridiculously pleased that he'd decided at some point that coming home was a more attractive proposition than chowing down on aging deer guts.

By the time we got done feeding the horses, it was drizzling. I dropped two bales of hay and two bales of shavings off at the little barn Allie's moving to. I got home to a message from Ginny: she'd alerted the horsey neighbors that a pony was loose in the woods, and learned which barn the pony was affiliated with and who she belonged to. Not long after the phone rang again: Ginny, reporting that the pony had found her way to her home barn. Whew. I called Joanie, in case she hadn't heard already, but of course she had. I told her that as of tomorrow my horse would again be a resident of her town. The phone rang again: it was Sarah Mello, owner of the pony, who wanted to thank me for my part in helping the pony find her way home. The pony is only three years old. I recounted the whole story (briefly) and said she was amazingly manageable for a youngster. The pony's name is Lizzie.


Bread and Blueberries

August 31, 2008 - View Single Entry

I didn't mean to bake bread today -- I've got two loaves in the freezer, one onion walnut and the other the full sibling of the whole wheat Craisin blue-ribbon winner -- but last night my sourdough starter was looking neglected, so I whisked it in a bowl with two cups of warm water and two and a half cups of unbleached white flour, covered it with a towel, and left it on the counter. This morning it was bubbling so cheerily that of course I had to make something, and since I've still got some pancake batter in the fridge, "something" had to be bread.

Into the bowl went the last of the orange juice (exactly two cups, which was just what I needed), the rest of the Craisins, some oil, three squirts of honey, two cups of white flour and two of whole wheat. In two or three hours the sponge had doubled -- if anyone tells you that sourdough starter alone can't raise dough, they lie, or maybe they just haven't met the right starter yet -- whereupon I kneaded and loafed. The loaves were humongous. If I hadn't already greased my biggest (9-by-5-by-3-inch) bread pans, I would have split it in three, but once loaf pans are greased, they have to be used. That's my private rule, based partly on "waste not, want not" and partly on not liking to wash greasy pans. The dough ate up all the white and whole wheat flour I had left in the house, along with a couple cups of the soy flour that someone gave me at least a year ago but I hadn't got around to trying yet. I rarely run out of flour, and this was a seriously close call: the dough was a little sticky but manageable, so I didn't have to run next door to borrow a cup or two.

I did wash the big glass jars the flour lives in. Three sparkling clean jars are now sitting on the shelf (I used up the last of the rye flour toward the end of the spring). They won't be empty long. The loaves were out of the oven by 2:30.

While the bread was rising, Trav and I went for a walk. I'd cut the last of the post-fair bread glut into cubes and put them in a plastic bag. On the way out, I scattered them in the woods for the birds and other critters. Travvy paid close attention to this operation. I explained that "other critters" did not include him as he is a very lucky puppy with a reliable food source, but I'm not at all sure that he took this in. On the way home, we stopped at a clump of high-bush blueberries that I've had my eye on for three days now; most of the high-bush blueberries in the immediate area have passed their peak or been picked (it's been a great summer for blueberries and huckleberries), but not these. I picked. Trav wandered up the road a bit, trailing his leash. I could see him, so I figured he was fine -- which he was, but I didn't realize till I was done that he'd occupied himself digging a new mud puddle in the road. His paws, his face, and, especially, his purple leash were fairly marinated in mud.

All in all it seemed a fair trade: the birds got the bread, I got the blueberries, and Traveller got to play mud puppy.


The Black Pen Awakes

July 25, 2007 - View Single Entry

I do most of my rough-drafting in longhand, using a fountain pen and bottled ink. At last count I had six pens and five colors of ink. In recent months they've mostly been snoozing in their boxes under light layers of dust while I spent more time at the computer. The only pen on my desk has been the one with green ink. The pen itself is a sort of green, but not the flat, bright green on the color chart. It's a multifaceted underwater green, olive suffused with brown and flecked with light. Lately I've been using it for a Squatters' Speakeasy scene in progress; rather, a scene not in progress. Sometimes the muses won't speak through my fingers if my fingers are anywhere near a keyboard. They will speak through the ink in a pen held by those same fingers. Go figure. Writing starts when you stop trying to figure and just get on with it.

Anyway, yesterday morning the muses went off on a tangent. For several pages, the green ink had been flowing from Mama Segredo's memories. She was thinking about how when you drive down a dark road you can't see to either side; people could be partying out there and you'd never know it unless you saw a light. Horses wear blinders so they won't see things that spook them. Where the hell did that come from? So far Mama Segredo has disclosed no knowledge of or strong feelings about horses. My Allie, on the other hand, is a bit of a spookster. Whatever was happening, it wasn't (quite) Squatters though it was clearly a riff on a Squatterish theme. I wanted to keep it in the same notebook, but I wanted to set it off.

Clearly it was time to waken the black pen from its slumber. Black Pen takes care of notes and tangents. Black Pen uses Fireball ink -- a bright reddish orange that dries a pleasant pumpkin color. After months of disuse, the ink had dried up in the barrel and crusted in the point. So I stood at the sink and sluiced the point with tepid water; the red-orange puddle in the dish drainer was quite dramatic, and my fingers are now subtly tinged with Fireball. Black Pen and Fireball were happy to be back in service; they went on for several pages, which I'll post later. Right now I'm going to wake my sleeping dog and go for a walk.


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