Thursday, January 29, 2009

Of Mice and Meadowlarks

Wednesday was an eventful day. And not necessarily in a good way.

It had recently iced, and Tuesday night it snowed several inches. The roads were dangerous, and the conditions were bad enough to cancel classes. This was good news because it meant I got to sleep in until a quarter past nine, then go out to do a few barn chores. I then planned to return inside the warm house, waste time on the Internet, and, if I felt like it, start working ahead on coursework.

Things started out normal enough. It was strikingly beautiful outside. There was a thick, smooth blanket of snow that reflected the sunlight. I had forgotten how blindingly bright snow could be. I was suitably impressed.

Next came the morning routine of picking stalls and dumping water, and then it was off with my mom to hay the horses in the pasture, since they couldn’t reach the grass under the ice and snow. Everything seemed normal at first, until we noticed Shorty hanging back in the woods by himself. He was unwilling to eat or move, and I took off my glove to feel his neck. He was incredibly hot. I had to remove my warm sweatshirt to lead (or rather drag) him back to the barn. His temperature turned out to be 106 degrees—dangerously high. He was lethargic and uncomfortable. Poor pony.

So the vet was called, and while she was on her way I gave Shorty a shot of banamine. The vet was unable to make a convincing diagnosis, but she administered antibiotics and several other meds and instructed me to give him a shot of immune booster. He showed some improvement, but he still wasn’t great. The blood work came back today, and the news was sobering. There’s a fair chance Shorty has cancer. We’re waiting on more definite test results, but it doesn’t look promising at all. Needless to say, this is a pretty awful blow. I’ve got my fingers cross that the news is good, but my hopes aren’t up.

While all of this was going on, Chi-Chi the dachshund was in the barn hunting the mice that overrun the feed room. They’re everywhere, and while I don’t usually approve of killing animals for human convenience, they’ve been spilling grain all over the place and making a huge mess, not to mention wasting money. Plus they stink. It’s hard to enter the feed room without gagging at the scent of disease-ridden mouse droppings. The dog succeeded in killing one, and chased another out in the snow, giving it a good bite but unfortunately not quite dispatching it completely. So it was up to a saddened and revolted me to bring my boot down and put it out of its misery. A repulsive and disheartening task, to be sure, and when I looked down to make sure I had done the deed properly, I saw a stain in the snow and a beheaded rodent body. How awful.

On a lighter note, however, there was another mouse in the barn that the dog didn't get (pictured). This one wasn’t of the typical small, ugly, gray house mouse variety. It was absolutely adorable and also practically tame. It calmly cleaned its face and nibbled on grain as I approached, and I succeeded in catching it in my gloved hand. I played with it while it crawled all over my arm, then it waddled off in search of more oats. According to my Internet search, it’s a deer mouse, even though they aren’t particularly common around here.

I still had to go to rehearsal that evening, but it went surprisingly well. I was happy with the way I played and thought the ensemble sounded pretty good. Walking back to my car along the haphazardly-shoveled sidewalks, I felt a sense of extreme peacefulness come over me. The sun was setting over the rose gray horizon, and the crisp snow on the ground was blue and sparkly. I felt perfectly content for the first time in a while. There was nothing that mattered beyond me and the handsome frame of Stone Chapel looming in the cold twilight. A magical experience.

Then, coming home along my driveway, I noticed a dark shape huddled in the deep tire tracks in the snow. I slammed on my brakes as I approached, and my car slid, grinded, and crunched to a halt. I stepped outside and there, not two inches in front of my wheel, was a meadowlark sitting flattened to the ground. I picked it up and looked it over. It was very cold, but bright-eyed and seemingly healthy. I brought it home and put it in a box in the garage, hoping to warm it up and then release it. Later I noticed a droplet of blood on its bright yellow breast feathers and lifted the down out of the way to expose a deep wound in its chest. Perhaps a hawk had caught it and then dropped it. The bird shivered. My options, I decided, were to either break its neck or leave it alone. I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. I’d already assisted in one involuntary euthanasia that day; I couldn’t handle another. So I fixed the box up with bedding, water, and grain and hoped for the best. Sure enough, when I came out a few hours later, the bird was cold, stiff, and very much dead.

Disease and death are everywhere. I’m worried sick about Shorty (who currently has a 102.2 degree fever and seems fairly comfortable, for the time being). But still.
In other words, I’m not in a particularly chipper mood right now. But you just gotta take it as it comes, right?

No comments: