It had been a long work week. Kimberly had a lot of horsey catalogs and websites to work on. I'd had five consecutive, late nights of cooking--one of them with a record number of diners.
When our "knockingbird" returned to the bathroom window at sunrise, we pulled our pillows over our heads and went back to sleep. Hanging colorful shirts in the window wasn't doing as much to discourage the bird's pecking and scratching. Besides, I think we were starting to get used to it. I recalled a conversation with our cat Macy from a few days earlier.
"He lost his job," Macy had said of the bird.
"A bird lost a job?" I questioned.
"And naturally he feels a lack of direction and vitality," Macy responded rather seriously. "Showing up here every morning gives him purpose. Besides, he hasn't told his family yet."
"I see," I said. "How long will he be with us?"
"Well, he's very optimistic--the woods across the street will soon be hiring at all levels, and he knows someone in their avian resources department."
I had a lot more questions about the bird, but at the time I figured I'd already heard more than I cared to.
Kimberly headed to the barn before I'd even finished getting dressed. As I brushed my teeth, the knockingbird landed on the bathroom window sill. He smiled and waved as if to say "thanks" before he started pecking and scratching at the glass. I wondered if next week he might accept a few days off.
Kimberly had already been out to the pasture and dropped the buckets for the horses. Vander ate from his knocked-over bucket, then chased Ellie away from hers and knocked it over. Ellie then chased Madison away from her bucket and knocked it over. Madison jogged over to Vander's knocked-over bucket and began eating until Vander returned and chased her off.
Justin stood in an adjacent pasture observing the others' antics. He whinnied, kicked his bucket over, and ran in a few large circles before returning to eat. In another small pasture, Mandy ate, seemingly oblivious to everything but her food.
I mucked stalls while Kimberly used a sander on the untreated pine boards that comprised the front of each stall. She then tested a little weatherproofing stain on the wood. By the time I was done mucking, Kimberly had sanded and stained Vander's stall front and door panel and painted the "V-neck" steel door.
Our barn is supremely functional, usually organized and sometimes clean, but always comfortable. It's the one place we can go and not feel stressed, pressured or harried. When it's hot outside the barn is shady with a nice breeze through the aisle. When it's cold out, the barn is cozy with horse blankets, warm wood and hay. And Kimberly's work was making the barn even better.
When Justin finished eating he stood by the fence with his neck outstretched and exchanged nuzzles and nips with Vander. We went in and put Justin on a lead line so we could clean a few-days-old cut on his shoulder. It wasn't shaped like a bite, but with horses one can't always explain the injuries.
He stood perfectly still while Kimberly rubbed medicated ointment on the wound. While we had him, we also lifted up and picked out his feet. Justin seemed to like the attention.
When we turned Justin out with Vander, Ellie and Madison, the two boys took turns chasing each other around. Despite being about 5 hands shorter, Justin was faster. Vander would run and kick then Justin would run and kick. Vander would buck and Justin would buck. We weren't even sure if Justin knew what he was doing, but he looked like he was having fun.
Kimberly returned to sanding, staining and painting while I took the truck to pick up another load of hay. When I returned to put the hay up, Kimberly took a break from the barn and started overseeding rye grass in the empty pastures on the barn's east side. We hadn't tried it before, but figured this year a few bags of rye seed might save us a few weeks' worth of hay.
I pulled the truck into the barn. With the mirrors folded in, the truck had about 3 inches to spare on either side. I climbed up on the giant stack of orchard grass bales and tossed one after the other into the loft. Then I went upstairs and stacked them neatly. With no windows or knockingbirds, it was tempting to lay down on the bales and go to sleep.
I drove the truck out of the barn as Kimberly walked in with the empty broadcast spreader. I parked the truck in the driveway. When I got out I could hear the sander--and Kimberly--working away on the wood.
It was after lunch time, and we hadn't even eaten breakfast. The day was overcast, damp and cool--perfect weather for throwing together a soup or stew. I was about to walk inside when Hazel started barking. Jack and Claudia pulled into the driveway as Kimberly walked up from the barn.
Jack got out of their car holding a large container of hot, homemade chili. Never underestimate your horsey friends--or their timing. The good conversation and a couple cups of chili quickly chased away the chills.
Kimberly returned to the barn and started up the sander again as I drove the tractor around to the woods at the back of our property. Using the tractor bucket and mower, I drove into the woods and cleared out a small deer feeding plot. I pushed over a few saplings and dead trees and mowed down some underbrush.
I had a large pine selected for my tree stand, positioned so I'd be shooting away from our pastures and barn, toward the surrounding farmland. As a cold afternoon rain started falling, the future steaks, roasts and stews were sounding even better.
We brought the horses out of the weather into what looked like a new barn. The previously grayish and weathered pine boards were a healthy, warm caramel color. The stall doors were a rich, glossy black and the cobwebs were gone from the grid wire that separated the stalls.
The horses examined their stalls and were every bit as impressed as I was, I think.
Kimberly and I went inside to heat up some more of Jack's chili. When Kimberly went inside, Macy came walking up to me.
"You'll be pleased to know the mockingbird got hired across the street," she said.
"Good for him," I answered. "The mornings won't be the same without him. Say, you're a healthy barn cat. Why didn't you just eat him?"
"Do you take me for a barbarian?" Macy responded.
"Couldn't catch him, could you?" I asked.
"No," Macy said.
"Want some chili?" I asked.
"I don't like beans," she responded before sauntering off across the backyard toward the barn.
Kimberly and I went to bed that night with a warming feeling of accomplishment, all our colorful shirts hanging in the closet, and more than a little excitement about being able to sleep past sunrise.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina. Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.