Sunday, May 25, 2014

A grand week off

Even though April set a record for warmth, I have not felt very warm this spring.  The dwindling wood pile keeps shrinking since I've kept the wood stove going at night to take the chill off. The house never seems to warm up to the outside temperature. Just a couple of weeks ago, out by the wood pile, the snow fleas, aka springtails, put in an appearance. A coating, almost like a blanket of soot, covered part of the tarp, as they hopped harmlessly on the plastic. I know some people may be horrified by this, but I've never seen them inside, only on snow and puddles in late winter/early spring. Don't worry, they don't bite! I'm not complaining--I like a long, cool spring! No need to rush into summer. Let's savor the warm days, the few annoying early black flies, and the lovely spring wildflowers.

This time of year, I need to keep hopping off Harley so I can photograph flowers. Poor John gets stuck playing "groom", holding my horse while I crouch on the ground, trying to zoom in on the magnificent wonder of the wildflowers.

I took a week and a half off from work with every intention of getting a lot of work done on the house. But I found it hard to stay focused on indoor painting when the weather for riding was absolutely perfect. John and I rode through the woods around Orris Falls where I photographed a number of spring flowers. Another lovely reason to be outside--the warblers are singing from every tree. And try as I might, I could only hear, and never saw, the scarlet tanager calling, "chick burr, chick burr" high in the leafy canopy.

The trail pictured to the right is one of my favorites. The footing is perfect and I've never seen a soul out there--only snowshoe tracks once! In fact, it gets so little traffic, it hardly looks used!

This was one of those cool 50 degree days when a flannel shirt is still required, but it's warm enough for the black flies to be a problem, hence Harley's head gear!

And the view from the other direction: a handsome guy on a classy looking Thoroughbred. Our horses' head nets seems to always be askew!

Spring fever has everyone feeling a bit rowdy. Even steady Rolex has exhibited some spookiness, something I just expect with 'ole Harley. "What's that in the woods? Oh no, a stump!"

Some spring beauties: Wild columbine--hummingbirds love this flower. I've put some in my garden and it spreads nicely! (Note: I purchased the plant; I never dig up wild plants.)

Another fragile, easily missed flower: Dwarf Ginseng

And in a nice wet, boggy spot: an island of Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Violets.

Time spent in the saddle and time spent out--it's all good. Just ambling through the woods, enjoying the sights. A broad-winged hawk flew overhead and we spotted a porcupine squatting in the crotch of a tree, having a siesta. I don't think the horses even noticed the spiny lump! John stopped for a little tack adjustment and it looks like Rolex is learning to ground tie. She's such a smart girl!

Back at the barn, our resident gray tree frog was singing in the sun, until I sneaked in for close-up shot. It's amazing how he blends right in with the bark. I followed his noise to track him down.

As the week progressed, wet weather closed in, forcing me to work on my indoor painting chores, and John had a couple of kayaks in the repair shop. The first S.M.A.R.T. ride was coming up on Sunday, but first I needed Harley's new Easyboot Backcountry Glove shoes to arrive. So we diligently did our chores, watched for UPS, and kept an eye on the sky, waiting to see what the weather would be for the ride.

Sunday dawned foggy and drizzly. I went out early to feed but by the time I arrived back home, we decided to skip the ride. By mid-afternoon when I finished my painting, the sun started to break through. Although it was a little late for our own version of the ride, we had hours of daylight still ahead. So we tacked up Harley (complete with new boots) and Rolex and rode the still-marked beginning of the S.M.A.R.T. trail ride. This entailed riding down the paved roads a ways, and over two bridges. Harley was amazing! I expected to be leading my balking boy over the bridges. He was leading the way--my brave boy!

We explored some unknown terrain through some mucky bogs (the Easyboots stayed on--they get a thumbs up for deep mud) and eventually came out on a recognized trail. In fact, the horses knew which way to head home, although they kept trying to take the direct route which involves deep water and bushwhacking! After all the rain, the mosquitoes were plentiful, and thirsty. Our horses sweated off the bug dope, so we needed fly swatters to sweep them off their necks and backsides. I subjected everyone to a quick stop while I photographed a patch of gaywings--such lovely flowers, I couldn't miss the chance. They hold a special memory for me from a childhood book "Signs of the Fairies" where this flower is a "fairy airplane".

After a solid three hour ride, both horses and riders were ready for some dinner. Our ponies got extra mash tonight. Harley got an extra peck on the nose for being such a magnificent leader! Back to work on Tuesday. Oh to be able to just ride all summer long!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Back in the saddle again

With my hand and wrist healed enough to ride, I've tried to get out on Harley as much as possible, dodging rain showers, and enjoying the early spring temperatures. The black flies arrived this past week, annoying the horses by day, but abating by dark. And with the black flies, we've seen an upsurge in ticks. I've never been a fan of using the chemical applications, but which is worse--Lyme disease or smelly, oily Equispot?

Wind has been the predominant weather feature of late with extremely windy days with strong gusts rattling the still-bare branches, buffeting the barn, and sending swirling leaves up in spiraling dervishes. All of this is enough to put Harley on "high alert".

As you can see from his pricked ears and giraffe neck, something lurked in the woods along the trail. Sunday's ride was quite bouncy--all springy trots, sideways spooks, and hollow-backed jigging. We did experience of few sudden surprises--wood ducks flew out of the beaver pond, a baby carrier on a man's back, and a dog chasing a ball. The owner caught the dog, but then hauled him into the underbrush off the trail. I explained that lurking in the woods is scarier than facing them on the trail--it would be better for all parties if they came out of the woods. The owner said, "He's never seen a horse, though." Well, there's a first time for everything--part of socializing a dog and de-sensitizing Harley!

I did some yard work over the weekend--a chore I dislike intensely--right up there with house cleaning, just in the outdoors. I picked up a lot of winter's littered sticks and branches, then moved on to cleaning up last year's maple leaf "mulch" I leave around the plantings.

The first spring wildflowers are beginning to open. Bloodroot (named for the red sap in it's roots) is one of the first to arrive. I planted these when a local greenhouse had a variety of native New England species for sale. There used to be a large patch of this growing in the woods along my grandmother's driveway. I wonder if they're still there. Just above the bloodroot is a small trillium, another lovely woodland flower I'm trying to propogate in the shade of the rhododendron. These flowers blossomed in the shadow of an old maple I've since had to take down, so I'm not sure if they get too much sun now. Pictured below is another spring arrival, Hepatica. The leaves (a rusty brown) have barely begun to open, yet the flowers have bloomed. That green leaf is the beginnings of Canada mayflower--another early spring arrival, greening up the woodlands. Lovely!

Monday's ride proved to be just as interesting, if not more so. Harley was full of himself as the wind whipped him into a frenzy. Gates rattled, chickens squawked, shelters shuddered, turkeys gobbled--and that was before we'd even reached Orris Falls! Once we got into the woods, I thought he'd settle. Instead he balked at a fence (he's got some ridiculous fear of this pole fence) and began his stellar backup moves. Harley really would make an awesome cutting horse (if he wasn't afraid of cows--which I'm not sure about). Once I got him to stop, stand still, think a moment and settle, we moved forward. Next, over the two water crossings with strong urging from seat and legs. We made it partway up the trail to Spring Hill when I heard a flapping from his feet. One of the Easyboots had come apart. I dismounted and pulled it the rest of the way off, then stuffed it in the saddle pad pocket. I figured I'd pull the other one too, but Harley would not stand still. Circling me like a demented beast, I walked him further up the trail, trying to calm his nerves. The minute he turned for home, he'd get all agitated again. I finally was able to get the other boot off, after about four attempts, and found a spot to get back on. The minute my leg was over the saddle, he was off for home.

I made him take the side trail along Orris Falls. He always peers into the chasm with one ear cocked to the falling waters. He jigged/trotted whenever he could, spooked at stumps, rocks, squirrels. John called and my response was, "Can't talk now--got my hands full." Oh Harley--what a silly bugger! I'm trying to force the poor guy to be a trail horse when he really needs his support team (aka his girls) to help stave off his fears. We've got a long road ahead, Harley

Can we go home now? There's something behind that tree!