Saturday, February 28, 2009

The City Girl and the Country Girl

Things are different out here in the country. In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to get back in touch with the wild fundamentals of seemingly long-ago childhood. Memories of twinkling creeks, bullfrogs, and deer bones come rushing back as I explore the pastures around my home. Having spent the first 17 years and 11 months of my life in a small house in the suburbs, well, it’s a welcome change.

The changing weather means that it’s about time to get my horses back in shape. I’ve been riding all winter, of course—through mud and ice and snow—but the barrel racing season is almost here, and soon I’ll be able to do even more riding. The unsettling thing about all this is that I note a definite personality change manifesting itself. Call me schizophrenic, but all the same I must make this claim: People are chameleons.

Think about it. In every situation, with every group of people, we put on a different façade. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly acting and putting on a show—to impress, to fit in, to have fun…the motive is often irrelevant. I read a brief analysis by a psychologist once, saying that people have specific defined “roles” (that is, wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, coworker, employee, friend) that they slip in and out of as the day goes on. It’s interesting, and I think incredibly accurate.

For me, I’m slipping back into my redneck drawl. Don’t I sound all edjimicated-like? Yep, even my online discourse is fading from the stilted diction of an egotistical scholar to the conversational tones of poorly-educated cowgirl. Oh joy!

On a more serious note, the disparity between my “multiple personalities” is such that never the twain shall meet. They’re two totally separate mindsets, and when I’m fully engrossed in one, I can’t connect with the other. It’s strange. What would a “cowgirl” (I truly hate that word, and all of the negative images it conjures—I refuse to identify myself with its connotations) want with philosophy, literature, music, or science? And what would a dedicated student want with the gritty, physical, down-to-earth no-nonsense life of a horsewoman? Pshaw.

Only when I am alone in a neutral setting and free to reflect and meditate am I able to objectively evaluate the various manifestations of my self. Would that I could freely synthesize these many selves into a composite whole. The wisdom I would have….the things I would be able to accomplish….what I could learn from myself! But alas, I (and perhaps all of mankind) am cursed to live my separate simultaneous li(v)es.

On different subject, I added a new photo/header at the top of the page (obviously). Hopefully the happy yellow font will brighten the mood a little—the monochromatic brown tones were getting a wee bit stifling.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodnight, Moon

Funny—I’ve been seeing this posted at several blogs over the past few days, and lo and behold, I get tagged by a friend. I didn’t even know what a meme was until I looked it up. How about that? I’m always learnin’! Well, at any rate, I’ll play along because today I lack the energy to write a whole new blog post.

1) How do you sleep at night?
Is your sleep affected by the national angst? Do you drop off easily, as you always did? Or does it take a while to get to sleep?

It all depends. I must say that national issues don’t really affect my sleep—only my waking hours. The day before yesterday I saw a man standing at a street corner holding a cardboard sign that read Homeless and Hu- (I couldn’t read the rest because of a fold in the board, but I assume it was either hungry or hurt). Across the road was a Wal-Mart, and on the other side was a hotel boasting of brand-new 37” plasma TV’s. The juxtaposition would have been humorous if it wasn’t so damn sad. I felt terrible for the poor fellow (though notice I didn’t do anything to help him—granted, what could I do?) but I drove on when the light changed and soon forgot. Out of sight, out of mind. My family isn’t too horribly affected just yet by “national issues,” and while there are some personal issues that are bothering me, they aren’t noticeably affecting my ability to fall asleep. I stay up so late working on homework or browsing the Internet that by the time I go to bed, I’m exhausted and quickly drift off.

2) What strategies, if needed, do you use to get to sleep? Pills? Sheep? Late night television shows? And/or...?

I’ve been keeping myself very tired lately because of my school schedule. I’m always on the verge of falling asleep, anyway, so nighttime is a blessed reprieve from the busy day. My evening routine consists of working on the computer until a late hour, then showering and stumbling bleary-eyed down the hall to my bedroom. I’ve recently started a quick exercise routine (stretches, push-ups, and crunches) to try to work off a few of those winter pounds, and that succeeds in wearing me out further. Sometimes I’ll go outside and stare blindly, sans glasses at the front yard and distant lights of Springfield, listening to the cattle lowing, the wind blowing, or spring peepers, well, peeping. If I lay in bed for a while and still haven’t fallen asleep (and if my schedule has been disrupted for whatever reason, this can take as long as an hour or two), I’ll get up and get a drink of water. That usually works.

Over the summer, I was on a very strange schedule. I’d often stay up to two or three in the morning, then sleep until ten. My parents would go to bed long before I would, so I’d have to be quiet so as not to wake them up. I’ll usually just waste time on the Internet, but some dark hot nights (mornings?) I’d sneak outside and run through the heavy fragrant pasture until I found the black horses against the black ground and black sky. This was just after Rebel had been diagnosed with navicular, and I’d grab his stiff, sweaty neck and bury my face in the old horse's wavy mane. Other times I’d hop on a still-healthy Shorty’s back and ride him completely saddle- and bridle-less to join the herd. Then I’d slink back inside and drop into bed, sick from the heavy scent of cut grass fermenting.

3. Do you wake up in the middle of the night, plagued by obsessive thoughts?

I’m a really deep sleeper, for the most part. On occasion, however, I will wake up with an obsessive thought—but it’s almost unfailingly something ridiculously stupid. A few weeks ago I woke up in an absolute frenzy because I realized that I had made a small typo in a paper that I had not turned in yet. Yeah. Somehow sleep magnified this into a life-altering catastrophe. Perhaps this is a sign that my life is too easy, if I’m so easily upset by stupid, little things.

4) What strategies do you have to get back to sleep?

Once I’ve been asleep, it’s usually not too hard for me to roll back over and resume unconsciousness. If I’ve gotten up in the meantime, though, it’s difficult. This past autumn I had to wake up to turn the horses in at five in the morning while my dad was on a trip overseas. After I had been outside working in the barn, I found it next to impossible to go back to bed, so I’d stay up working horses or doing homework until it was time to leave for school. On other days, if I wake up before my alarm goes off and happen to look at the clock and see that it’s less than an hour until I have to get up for real, I’ll be so worried about my alarm that I won’t be able to sleep at all. I’ll keep waking up at five or ten minute intervals and checking the time. Paranoid, maybe. If I can ever clear my mind, I’ll fall back asleep.

5) Are your dreams affected? Are they more anxious than before? Do they wake you up in a sweat? Or are they peaceful, innocent, undisturbed by the general malaise?

I don’t exactly buy into all that dream-theory mumbo-jumbo, but I’m quite convinced that events/problems/worries/experiences in my life are very much affecting my dreams. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but about twice a month I’ll have a very vibrant, exciting, scary, funny, or interesting one. Oddly enough, shortly before Shorty’s fever flare-up and cancer diagnosis, I had a dream that all of the cattle down the road were dropping stone dead. I was watching a wave of death move towards my house—you could see it coming. (Anyone seen the movie The Happening? It was just like that.) It made it to my pasture, and sure enough, my horses started to collapse. It was awful. I think that one was triggered by the dead cow I passed on the way home. It lay there for a few weeks, just off the road and covered in ice and snow, before the owner finally did something with the carcass. Sad and gross.

The other night I had a dream inspired by the campus-safety active shooter drill, which I heard about but was not present for. This one was just absurd. We were locked in a library, hiding beneath tables and bookshelves. I was lying on the floor next to a guy, and we were talking about how pointless the drill was. Then before my eyes he turned into an overweight woman. Yep. Try explaining that one, Freud! apparently I must tag people:

Good Luck with all the Other Pandas
Horse Divorce
I Hate You Peter Smythe
Peanuts, Penguins, and Plutocracy

Monday, February 23, 2009

Walking with the Holy

Prayers offered in times of peace
Are silent conversations
Appeals for love, or love’s release
In private invocations
But all that is changed now
Gone, like the memory from the day before the fires
People hungry for the voice of God
Hear lunatics and liars

--Paul Simon

That’s an excerpt from Wartime Prayers, released in 2006. I love that song; I found it bland at first, but the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me. I know I quote Paul Simon far too often, but I think the above (and the following) are pretty timely, given the state of affairs both globally and in my own personal life. There’s a lot I could write on this subject, and even as I sit down typing this now (at my laptop which periodically decides to slow down, freeze up, or completely die) I’m having a heckuva time organizing my thoughts.

First, I think it’s pretty accurate. What do we pray/hope/dream for when things are going well? Stuff, mostly, right? Or, as the lyrics say, “love or love’s release.” Petty things, at any rate, selfish things. We’re very self-absorbed, so that even when our lives are good, we can always think of more things to ask for, and we can always complain when we don’t get them. It takes something like a tragedy, a disaster, or (surprise!) a war to get our thoughts shifted from personal greed to external consciousness. Sad. That says a lot about our culture and the mindset we’re raised in—“Only I matter, and I’m entitled to whatever the hell I want.”

Because you cannot walk with the holy
If you’re just a halfway-decent man
I don’t pretend that I’m a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan
I’m trying to tap into some wisdom
Even a little drop will do
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I’m through

These are my favorite lines in the piece. It pretty much sums up exactly where I feel I’m at in my life right now. I finally feel ready to embrace and pursue some sort of truly ethical, meaningful existence. Does that mean I’m growing up and becoming an adult? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just trying to grow, mature, learn, and most importantly do the right thing. It’s a hard and slow process. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time—but I am indeed “trying to tap into some wisdom…rid my heart of envy and cleanse my soul of rage.”

I’ll openly admit that I’m no saint. Far from it. I’m ashamed of some of my actions in the past, and I continue to make mistakes on almost a daily basis. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but even at that I had a recent experience in which an unintentional, naïve, and idiotic blunder of mine caused someone else pain. Dammit. But I hope to learn from my errors so I can correct them in the future. While I’ll likely never “walk with the holy,” I strive to be more than halfway-decent.

Times are hard; it’s a hard time
But everybody knows all about hard times
The thing is, what are you gonna do?
Well, you cry and try to muscle through
And try to rearrange your stuff
But when the wounds are deep enough
And it’s all that we can bear
We wrap ourselves in prayer

Tru dat. It’s a hard time for everyone right now—who isn’t in some way effected by global affairs? Conflict? The economy? Or personal issues—such as the ongoing and serious health problems of my beloved horses?

For me, I’m able deal with it. I’m a pretty strong person, for the most part. I have a coping mechanism that says, “Hey, this is the way it is, and I can’t change it, so let’s just do what needs to be done and take things as they come.” It works for me. I’m able to maintain a pretty positive outlook and even at the worst of times I never sink into despair. Instead of, “Why me?” I ask, “Why not me?”

And life goes on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Theory vs. Practice

Let me preface this by admitting that my formal training in philosophy, ethics, values, and logic is extremely limited. So while I often pretend to know what I’m talking about, really all I’ve got is a bare-bones understanding and an overinflated sense of my own abilities and knowledge. Now that I’ve got that out of the way….

I’m having a real difficulty grasping apparent disparity between theory and practice when it comes to ethics and belief systems. The comments on the last post regarding deontological versus consequentialist philosophies got me thinking about how what we say and how we act are often two totally different things (the old “do as I say, not as I do”). This is fine, of course, and probably just a natural course of events. I suppose it’s to be expected, given the extreme difficulty of living up to ideals.

However, if we do decide to accept that a) we aren’t perfect and b) we’re going to do less than ethical things in our lives as a matter of course (and I suppose we don’t absolutely have to accept these terms and we can continue to strive and live the Good Life, as in Socrates’ vision, but I personally don’t know of anyone who can or will do this), I don’t see how we can escape the curse of “justification” or the “lesser evil.”

[Real-life example: Let me lay out a scenario and see if it makes any sense. I’ll use something I’m familiar with, just to make it easier on me.

Claim: Causing pain to living beings is wrong. Agree? Seems pretty reasonable, I think.

All right, so let’s say medical research is being done, testing a new cancer drug. This has the potential to save human lives and ease suffering. However, we need subject to test this on before we can get into human trials and introduce the medicine to the medical community. So we’re going to run trials, first on mice, then dogs, then apes. Or whatever—it doesn’t really matter. The point is that during this process, many of these lab animals—some of whom are extremely intelligent and very sensitive to pain and emotions—are going to suffer.

Now, as far as I can tell, the only way to consider this scenario and judge its “rightness” appropriately is through some sort of do-the-ends-justify-the-means mindset. You may decide that yes, the potential to save human lives outweighs the negative side effects of causing pain to animals, or you may say that no, there is no excuse to justify such inhumane treatment. Needless to say, the former option is the much more accepted and prevalent one in our society. Regardless, however, you’re going to have to step outside the constraints of idealism and pure theory as you make your decision. In the end, I think the choice must (almost) necessarily be made out of consequentialism.]

So, while the theory of the ideal life is something that is excellent and that we should all try to live up to, I don’t think that it’s always exercisable in practice. Sometimes I think we’ve got to stoop to “lower” methods of thought when sorting out difficult, no-real-right-or-wrong problems.

Does this make sense? Am I totally off-base in my assumptions? Care to enlighten me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ethics and Molarity

Nope, that’s no typo. That’s my clever little play on words, right there. I guess it’s not funny if I have to explain it, though….

Anyway, let’s get straight to the point. In my science classes, which this semester includes General Zoology (also known as Invertebrate Biology) and General Chemistry II, I’m often confronted with moral and ethical issues that at times trouble me. They’re minor situations that give me that tingling feeling that “something’s not quite right,” and while I don’t lose any sleep over them, I do find myself occasionally worrying about them.

I’ll write first about the smaller issue—the one I can control but often choose not to—the one that makes me feel like a bad person. See, in Gen Chem lab we’re expected to complete various experiments according to the lab manual. Unfortunately, the instructions are cryptic (or even inaccurate) and the teacher isn’t much help at all (half the time he’s either sleeping in his office, getting himself a coffee, or otherwise MIA). Students are expected to complete the procedure flawlessly, however, obtaining “perfect” results and then writing laboratory reports about them. Sounds simple, but things never go according to plan. Chemicals react when they aren’t supposed to, or for whatever reason our ethanol solution doesn’t boil at the expected temperature. What’s a student to do? When we ask for assistance, we don’t receive any meaningful advice, and we can’t move on until we complete this portion of our task. We are graded only on our attendance and our assignments, and even those are participation only. So….we forge results. I justify it by saying that “it doesn’t matter anyway” and “we wouldn’t learn anything from this, even if we were doing it correctly” and “he won’t read it” and “it’s not affecting my grade positively, so what’s the big deal?” All of these are valid and true. I’ve got a good point, I think, and although appeals to popularity are never good, it’s true that everyone is doing it, so why can’t I? Still, nagging doubts surround me. It’s not a good feeling.

Now for the Zoology portion. Let me preface this by saying that I’m a pretty sentimental sap, and if anything is “cute,” well, I won’t want to hurt it. Cute applies to more than just fuzzy animals, too—I find paramecia adorable (Lookit the way they scurry around with all their little cilia and eat the yeast! Awww!) and I have a high respect for all forms of life. I think anything remotely animal-like should be treated humanely and with respect (that applies to everything except ticks, mosquitoes, and flies, just to clarify). So when the professor tell us to take the live earthworms, pin them down at either end, slit them open, and extract their seminal vesicles while they’re still squirming, it’s not squeamishness that turns my stomach. It’s the knowledge that this little creature is capable of feeling pain. Can’t we at least kill it first? The worst part is that it’s all completely unnecessary—all we were looking for were the lifecycles of various parasites within the sperm, and this is much more easily accomplished with prepared slides. Nothing could be gained from this exercise: it simply wasn’t beneficial, even as a learning experience.

I did bring myself to kill the termite to examine the Trichonympha within its gut. I thought I do the deed quickly and humanely, so I grabbed its thorax with the tweezers and tore its head off. Alas, the body and head continued twitching and squirming for the full 10 minutes while I examined the slide. They were still thrashing when I rinsed them down the sink. Ugh.

Heck, I even feel bad when we rid ourselves of the unicellular flagellated algae by washing them down the drain. They move and kick around so happily in the droplet of water under the microscope. The stress of moving to city water surely kills them. Yes, I realize that I’m being an idiot with all this anthropomorphizing. Little microscopic organisms like that have no sensory or nervous system, and they certainly aren’t sentient beings—just automatons. But after flipping through the lab manual and seeing that we end up killing frogs just to examine the parasites that live in their lungs—I think I’ll have to be a conscientious objector to something as pointless, stupid, and cruel as that.

When the specimens come preserved, I have no qualms about cutting them open. It can be interesting and entertaining to view all of the internal organs and structures. I (almost) enjoyed the cat dissection we did my junior year of high school (although I made my lab partners swap the calico kitty they had chosen for a slightly-more-anonymous tabby). This was a worthwhile exercise because it actually taught something, and at least I was one step removed from the killing process (admittedly it was a shock to cut open the cat’s stomach and see a large quantity of undigested Meow Mix X’s and O’s).

I dunno. I just can’t condone teaching kids in school that it’s perfectly acceptable to take advantage of living things for nothing more than convenience or in the name of “education” when videos and slides would serve just as well—nay, better. I don’t know how I’ll make it through vet school, given the unethical horror stories I’ve heard about the upper level classes….

Pictured, by the way, is a hydra. Isn’t it magnificent in its simplistic yet perfectly formed splendor?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spring is in the Air

The other day I was walking across campus when the old scent of molasses and animal feed drifted from Tindle Mills. Suddenly I was flooded with memories. I recalled early morning marching band rehearsals at Harrison Stadium. It would be seven o’clock in the morning in the first weeks of October. When we arrived at the field, the muddy grass (and later Astroturf) would be wet with dew or brittle with frost. If we arrived directly on time like we were supposed to, the sky would still be dark, with only dim streetlights illuminating our visible breath. We’d shiver and complain miserably and try to warm up our horns, but the cold notes sounded tinny and useless. By the time we had taken our positions on the yard lines, the sun would begin to rise behind us. If we had the opportunity to turn around, we could catch the first frail orange fragments as they broke over the horizon. Those first few minutes were always spectacular. They made missing sleep and braving the cold worth it. Later, after an hour of marching and playing, we’d troop back to school to begin the monotony of the day. As we walked along Central Street, the nauseating smell of Tindle’s molasses would overpower and gag me.

Anyway. It was a warm Missouri winter day, and as the odor wafted to my nostrils, I smiled fondly at the memories of high school band, and I thought too about the bags of feed stacked high in the barn to feed the horses. Happy thoughts. The weather was so nice I removed my jacket and lamented that my destination was the basement of the Olin Library, far from the comforting breeze and birdsong, ugly and fluorescent and subterranean. I rejoiced in the day while I could, for warm weather in February means two things: spring and tornadoes. Indeed, that night we received a downpour of cold rain, and a tornado briefly touched down in Springfield, doing damage to some local businesses and traffic lights.

The spring peepers are out. I heard them last night, and a few weeks ago I saw a robin, the alleged harbinger of the season of renewal. I’m ready for the change, though I dread the hazardous winds and weather than are sure to accompany it.

I rode Bones tonight. I took her over to the 20 acre neighboring pasture and began our routine of trotting. Naturally, she quickly decided that we were going much too slowly, and she dove and plunged to escape the bit in an effort to break into a lope. As I laughed and fought her (who can blame her? she’s a young and healthy horse bred to run) I caught sight of four whitetails ahead of us, watching us carefully. I slowed the mare and approached the deer carefully, a few steps at a time. They were wary, but not truly frightened. One watched us. One grazed. One scratched her head with a hind leg. One squatted to urinate.

The first seemed curious, and she took a few tentative steps towards us, then retreated. Then she approached again, getting fairly close—within 20 or 30 feet, I’d say. The other hung back, and Bones held stock-still, watching the other animal with mild interest. Finally the brave doe decided that she’d had enough, and she returned to her fellows. They all began to move off, and I followed them at a respectful distance. This went on for some time. The deer seemed unwilling to leave the pasture, but they didn’t want to allow me to come any closer. They’d trot or run a few steps, leaping in that graceful, leisurely way so characteristic to the species. Bones waited for the cue to pursue. She loves chasing things, since that combines her other two loves: running and being mean. But I felt we had tormented the deer enough, so I pulled her off and left them to graze.

I began to canter my horse in circles when I happened to look up and catch a glimpse of two deer quite near to us. My eyes returned to the spot where I had left the original group, and sure enough, all four were still there. Where these two new additions had materialized from, I have no idea, for they were coming out of seemingly empty, open field. To my great surprise, they were coming at a good clip, running straight towards us. I thought at first they were challenging us (Were they sick? Were they defending their territory? Family?) but they seemed not to notice us at all. At the last instance they veered and continued on by us, slowing just enough to hop the barbed wire fence and continue on out of sight. Strange.

I continued the ride without further incident, and paused at its conclusion to admire the sun set. This evening it was brilliant pink and red. Even as I watched, the vibrant colors faded to gray. Cows lowed in the distance. I could hear the noisy utterances of what sounded like a very large gaggle of geese, although the birds themselves never materialized. A gray heron, a patch of features missing from its right wing, flew directly overhead. The first star appeared in the still-bright cloudy sky, subdued, dusty, and dim.

I paused in repose. What was this emotion washing over me? Oh, yes. Contentment. Despite it all, life is still pretty damn good.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Euthanasia Ethics

This morning on the way to work my father hit a deer on the highway. Luckily, neither he nor his truck were harmed in any way. It was a different story for the deer, however. My dad pulled over to see the animal struggling—and failing—to get to its feet. He stood by and observed it, hoping that it would die on its own, but sadly it remained alive and injured, lying by the side of the road. My dad had nothing on him save a tiny penknife, and he couldn’t bring himself to hunt around for a vein, brutally stabbing and likely missing the jugular. So, disheartened and disgusted, he called a friend and asked him to come and shoot the deer to end its suffering.

That’s not a very happy story, is it? And the irony and symbolism definitely weren’t lost on me. Yes, sadly we’ll be facing a similar situation with Shorty in the near future (it could be tomorrow, it could be next month, but it’s definitely coming). The point is that, in effect, by “putting an animal to sleep” (a somewhat misleading euphemism), you’re essentially playing God. Euthanasia ethics—how do you know what the right thing is? How do you define quality of life?

In Shorty’s case, it’ll probably be a very gray area. His fever and edema is expected to return soon, and when it does, he’ll start feeling sick. But does that mean he doesn’t want—or deserve—to live? He can’t tell us how he’s feeling, so we can only go my external indicators like appetite and brightness of expression. Give the shot too soon, and you risk robbing him of what could have been happy times. Give it too late, and make him suffer unnecessarily. Again, Shorty has no choice or say whatsoever in the situation—we will literally be making life-and-death decisions for him. No wonder I’m so sad….

I know that I, for one, would want to have the option of euthanasia if I were suffering with no chance of recovery. If I was comatose, or quadriplegic, or in constant pain with nothing to live for, I think I’d want the decency to pass on my own terms rather than prolong my misery. I don’t know why people seem to have such a problem with this issue—give the dying the respect they deserve and allow them to make their own choices. Anything less is cruelty.

It’s when you make the choice for someone else that it really gets complicated. No one can say for sure what the “right” thing is, so all you can do is get an educated opinion, try not to let emotions cloud your judgment, and hope and pray that you’re doing the right thing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When Bad Things Happen to Good Horses

The final blood work analysis came back on Shorty. Frankly, the news is terrible. It's cancer. They're certain of it. It’s some sort of invasive, internal, lymphatic cancer that is now affecting different organs, causing the various symptoms. It's very rare, so they don't know much about it. We could run tests at the university, but it would cost $1500 and wouldn't really do any good. No matter what, there's no cure and no treatment. He may not have much time at all. The vet is very disheartened and visibly upset. She implied that we could have to make "some decisions" as early as this week. She put Shorty on steroids to make him more comfortable, but really there's nothing else to do. If his protein levels remain constant, he could hang on for a while, hopefully comfortably, although it's quite possible that these fever-like symptoms could keep re-occurring. If, however, his albumin levels drop any lower than they already are, it will go downhill extremely fast (a matter of days, I think, and the only option euthanasia).

How do you respond to news like that? He's pretty happy right now—getting lots to eat and gobbling it down, because why not let him have it if he wants it? His legs are swollen and painful, but the steroid will hopefully help with that. Outwardly he appears's so hard to believe that he's probably dying. I feel so bad for Shorty, but even worse for my mom. We've both been crying all evening, bawling our eyes out, hugging each other, and hanging out in Shorty's stall.

Just take it one day—or hour—at a time....

I always hate it when people start cursing their luck, or asking “Why me?” or complaining about all the bad things that happen to them (who do everything right) while only good things happen to other people (who do everything wrong). Well, that’s the point where I’m at right now. Why my family, when we’ve truly had nothing but bad luck with our animals in the past few years? Why Shorty, who should still have another 10-15 years of happy, healthy life left in him? Dammit, it’s just not fair.

Shorty means so much to my family. He was my first horse: I got him just a few days before September 11, 2001. I was 11; he was seven. He saw me all the way through my middle school and high school years. He was always the perfect horse in every way, too—gentle enough for children to ride, but competitive enough to help win me several thousand dollars worth of prizes and checks over the years we were partners. When I moved on to bigger, faster horses, he was relegated to my mom’s trail mount, and served her faithfully. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s the ideal horse. A world champion trainer once described him as the sort “you want to have half a dozen of in assorted colors.” He’s Mr. Congeniality. He has a fan club wherever he goes. Everyone knows Shorty. He’s never misbehaved in his life. He’s also never been sick, not once in over seven years. We always joked that he’d still be fat and happy at 35, though completely toothless and gray. Who could have predicted him suddenly and unexpectedly failing at the relatively young age of 15?

At this point, I could launch into a lengthy discourse paying tribute to all the things that Shorty has done for me, and all that he means to my family, but really I’ve neither the energy nor the eloquence. Suffice it to say that this little horse means the world to us, and he will be sorely, sorely missed (is it macabre to speak of him like he’s already gone?). I just hope he doesn’t suffer. God, that would be unbearable. And making the decision when “it’s time”—how do you ever know?

Maybe a miracle will happen. Maybe the vets are wrong. But what are the odds of that? No, it’s best to just truck along like always, come to terms with grief, and treat ol’ Shortman the way he deserves.

But he doesn’t deserve this. And my mom doesn’t deserve this—it’s breaking her heart. And dammit, I don’t deserve it, either.

But life, my friends, ain’t fair, is it? That’s just part of the deal.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On the other hand....

Just when it seems like things can't get any worse, well, they get a little better. The other day my family drove to Diamond, MO to check out a tack shop that we hadn't been to before. The prices were great, and the selection was pretty cool. I didn't want to spend any money (because I'm saving it up for some unforeseen emergency, I guess, but also because I'm cheap and don't actually need anything), but my mom finally talked me into spoiling myself and splurging just this once. I bought a gorgeous ESP saddle pad, an amazing orange bronc halter, and a few smaller miscellaneous items. I also got some Cavallo boots for Brandy, since it looks like she's going to be staying barefoot. Overall, I was pretty pleased with my purchase. Heck, I still get a few kicks out of materialism every once in a while. For shame!

I wanted to try out Brandy's new footwear, so I rode her off down the gravel and asphalt roads yesterday. On my way home, I noticed one of the neighbor's cows sniffing something on the ground. I rode closer, trying to figure out what the object was. It was smooth and glistening, red, purple, and wet. I stared stupidly at it and was unable to make a conscious connection until the thing kicked and turned over. I could make out the protrusion of a leg and the outline of the face still covered by the amniotic sac.

I was completely startled and amazed. I spun my horse around and galloped to the neighbor's barn, hoping that she would be home so I could give her the news and she could ensure that the calf escaped the sac quickly and without suffocating. I haven’t a clue what standard protocol is for cattle births, but I figured it was better safe than sorry. She wasn't there, but as I frantically looked around, her in-laws and husband came home, and I was able to relay the information to them. They were grateful, and the husband accompanied me back on his four-wheeler. When we arrived, we saw the mother and a yearling calf gently nudging and sniffing the little wet creature. It had fully emerged by this point, its hair damp and spiky, its oversized ears flopping straight out to the sides of its head. The mother was already possessive, protective, and—dare I say it—loving in her simple bovine way. She stared us down and refused to budge, even though she was obviously frightened by our nearness. She gave a soft moo to her offspring, and the tiny thing responded in its own new, weak voice. It bobbled from side to side as it lifted its head. A five-minute old calf and its mother. How magical. How poetic!

The baby was standing and nursing within an hour, healthy but still weak and incredibly unsteady on its feet. The poor thing was still wet and shivering convulsively in the cold evening air. Welcome to the world!

As for Shorty, the blood work results should come back tomorrow. The vet (who, incidentally is also the neighbor and cow owner) didn't realize it was a multi-step, two-day process, and then the weekend messed us up. At least Shorty is feeling much better—his fever is gone, and he has 90% of his appetite back. The vet's "best guess" right now is Equine Herpes Virus, though of course leukemia is still a possibility. And who knows what else it could be. But at least for the time being the horse is comfortable and happy. We’re just taking it one day at a time. What more can anyone do?

Even in the midst of stressful, sorrowful times, life still goes on. Shorty fell ill, the mice and the meadowlark died, and a brand new calf was born in the next door pasture.

This day has ended.
It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own tomorrow.
What was given us here we shall keep,
And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver.
Forget not that I shall come back to you.
A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.

--Kahlil Gibran