Continued from Married with Horses: Horses, Horses Everywhere
The day was starting poorly and I hadn’t even left the bed. It was early and Kimberly was still asleep. I lay under the covers, barely able to resist scratching my poison ivy rash. The vines grow rampant in the groves and thickets around our horse farm. They cover the trees–growing best on the trees destined to become firewood that are cut and handled by yours truly.
Recent storms had toppled a giant sweet gum tree behind our barn. It landed in a cotton field. Besides blocking the farmer’s access to a portion of his field, I wanted the firewood. Once you begin collecting firewood, the obsessive-compulsive, hunter-gatherer, wood-hoarding troll that lives inside you comes to life. Suddenly everything is firewood: the healthy crepe myrtles in the front yard, the maples in the back, and ugly furniture is always fair game–yours and others’.
“I was wondering,” you remark to a friend as you sit in his living room, “you don’t seem to sit in those dining room chairs any more. I’ve got a wood stove…”
“No!” he shouts.
End of discussion, I guess.
Despite my care while cutting the felled sweet gum, I got into some poison ivy. I just don’t know when I did it. It’s confusing, really. Mad dogs bear their teeth and growl before they bite. If you’re bitten by a dog, you can then make the appropriate associations between the particular dog, your behavior and being bitten. I can handle that. Some plants do this. For example, stinging nettles get you immediately, also enabling that helpful association. But not poison ivy–it’s sneaky. And with all the poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak that grow around here, I’m never really sure what I’m looking for or what gets me. When all is said and done, I’m splotchy, itchy and no closer to making any helpful associations. I only know that every time I just look at the woods I get a rash.
As I lay there resisting the itching, my phone rang. I answered.
“Mr. Law?” asked a woman’s voice.
“I hope it’s not too early, I’m calling from the state vet hospital. We’ve been keeping Mandy’s eye clean and medicated while monitoring its condition, but it’s not getting any better. We feel it may be best to remove it.”
“How is she doing?” I said, momentarily forgetting about my rash.
“She’s doing well, considering the circumstances. Still eating and pooping normally.”
“When would you operate?”
“And of all our present options, removal is the best for her?” I asked.
“Yes. And we don’t anticipate any complications for her or the foal. We can actually remove the eye without putting her under. We’ll block the affected areas and she’ll remain standing during the procedure.”
“We like anything that helps her and the foal.” I said. “And I trust your assessment, but let me speak briefly with my wife and our co-parents. I can call you back within the hour.”
There wasn’t much worrying or stress. We’d gotten that out of the way after the initial injury. Kimberly quietly agreed surgery was the best route. Mandy’s co-parents, Jack and Claudia, felt the same. After decades of owning horses, they’d seen worse situations and thought removing the eye was a smart choice. I think Kimberly was still expecting Jack and Claudia to be upset with her for letting Mandy injure her eye. They weren’t and never would be. We gave the clinic the green light to operate and awaited the post-surgical update.
The alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but I left the bed thinking starting my day might distract me from my itching. It was a beautiful morning, so I skipped putting on a shirt. Autumn in eastern North Carolina is brief, and I try to enjoy the sunny, breezy, 70-degree days as much as I can. I figured the horses wouldn’t mind if I was shirtless and splotchy.
We still had New Horse, the loose mare that Jack and Claudia discovered running down a nearby road. I left another voice message with animal control asking if they’d received any phone calls from someone missing a friendly mare. There are mares who know they’re mares–who know they act like hormonal dopes sometimes, but seem to appreciate that you don’t hold it against them. New Horse was that kind of mare: sweet, dopey and generally affectionate.
Not knowing what she normally ate, we just left her in the front pasture to continue grazing. Well, after giving her some fresh pear chunks, of course.
A light breeze blew through the barn and the sun filtered through a nearby pine grove. The reassuringly sweet scent of hay and shavings filled the barn. I felt invigorated. Maybe the day was shaping up. Standing in the barn aisle, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. At that moment, several carpenter bees took advantage of my vulnerable bliss and stung me.
I had intentionally avoided waging a war on the wood-boring carpenter bees because I know they’re important as fat, flying pollinators in local gardens. I was stunned by their mutiny. I felt insulted and betrayed. Moreover, I felt pain, pain and itching, pain on my itching. I swatted at them, but they retreated to the barn’s high eaves.
When one of the bees returned to examine their work on me, I grabbed a broom and swung at it. I missed the bee and knocked down a small wasp’s nest that had apparently survived my summer cleaning. The wasps stung both forearms and my chest before I got away.
For the first time in several mornings, Vander and Ellie stood silently in their pasture. They normally nickered and whinnied until they were fed. This morning they seemed hypnotized by all the excitement in and around the barn.
Magically, Kimberly appeared with insect spray, quickly dispatching the remaining wasps and sweeping the nest and little bodies out of the barn. Fortunately for me, she was unable to sleep through my whooping and hollering. Kimberly’s eyes widened when she looked at me.
“Oh,” she remarked, staring at my collection of battle wounds. “I should probably take you to the hospital.”
“What?” I responded. “I’m fine.”
I looked down at my chest and arms. One rarely gets the opportunity to compare different kinds of splotches. The poison ivy-sumac-oak splotches were clearly discernable from the carpenter bee splotches, and both differed from the swelling wasp splotches. I’ve heard that most people who are allergic to wasps aren’t allergic to bees. That’s good because someday I want honeybees. Also, I had just been stung by both and preferred to only be partly swollen.
My forearms were a little fat. I don’t mean that as a body-image commentary. I mean that the wasp stings were making me look like Popeye.
“Just get me a can of spinach and a sailor hat, I’ll be fine,” I said to Kimberly.
“I’m a little worried,” she said. “You don’t look good.”
“Story of my life,” I responded. “I think some ice packs and a couple of antihistamine tablets will suffice.”
I sat down as Kimberly jogged to the house for the Popeye supplies. She returned with a pack of Benadryl and two large bags of frozen chicken breasts. I sat on the ground, leaning against the barn with a bag of chicken over each forearm. I felt better. The antihistamine was making me a tad drowsy, though. Kimberly walked to the pasture with the horses’ buckets. It was nice enough that they could stay outside.
“Hello?” said a strange voice from inside the barn. I leapt up, dizzy, but ready to bludgeon the would-be intruder with two, giant bags of frozen chicken. An older woman was standing in the aisle. Her eyes grew wide as she looked at my shirtless torso. Yes, I have been working out, but I suspect she was eyeing my splotches and swelling. Also, she seemed confused by the bags of chicken. I, too, was confused as well as increasingly dizzy. I couldn’t figure out who she was.
“Er… I… um,” she managed, still looking at the splotches, then the chicken.
“Friend… or foe?” I asked accusingly. I squinted and menacingly shook my chicken bags.
Fortunately Kimberly returned before things got awkward. She made me go inside, which was probably better for everyone. I exchanged the frozen chicken for frozen berries and passed out on the living room carpet. It was strange because I usually only do that on my birthday.
The woman turned out to be New Horse’s owner, and New Horse was actually named “Lady.” They lived around the corner at a small house with a tiny yard. When Lady was found, no one checked with that house because it didn’t appear to have room for a horse. We were wrong. Lady lived alone behind the house in a small paddock not visible from the road. The owner suspected that Lady’s wire fencing had been knocked down by some deer and that Lady just wandered off.
According to the owner, Lady didn’t load onto trailers well, and besides, they had no trailer. She thanked Kimberly profusely and her son walked the horse the half-mile back home. I slept through all of it, on our living room floor. I awoke as Kimberly was removing the bags of berries from my arms. She filled me in with the story of Lady’s return home.
I was still splotchy, very itchy and swollen from the stings, but I felt better. I crawled into bed and placed my phone on the pillow beside my head. It was barely 11 a.m. when Kimberly kissed me and tucked me back into bed. I imagined Mandy’s surgery would go well. I figured I had already absorbed all of the family’s trouble for the day. With the plant and insect attacks out of the way, everything else could continue smoothly. I don’t mind making such sacrifices for my family.
I fell asleep into a dream about Mandy. We were pirates. I had the parrot, and she had the eye patch. We sailed a big wooden ship and waged war on an island populated by stinging insects and poisonous plants. Kimberly was a mermaid. Every time I fired a cannon at the island, she’d just roll her eyes and offer me some chicken.
I’m not really sure what that dream meant.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.