Carole Dell with Fatiyah, an Egyptian Arabian mare. Zina is in the background.
Zen and the Art of Manure Maintenance
Grass left lagging from the last fall cut spits in protest as I slide downhill. I shudder under a sun lost on 5 degrees of frost.
In the barn horses munch hay, holding the cold at bay. Their soft breath, like warm smoke, turns an errant whisker into a glassy stem.
Resident coyotes yip and snap at the bitterness of their fate throwing a glinting eye as they trot, tall-legged and quick, to the high part of the hill.
All barns are community centers. Its denizens huddle hidden till morning, when horses wake and turn silence to thunder when they lumber to their feet.
High in the loft, a potentially rabid raccoon hid nicely in a bale of hay daring the red fox to take back her den or be left in the cold.
Under this roof stories float of ruddy men who sank the last nail in the last plank one spring then drank whiskey while the rain drummed a sad song on their reverie.
But today I fork for manure. Stir shafts of light, shards of dust-born flakes airborne, the effort zen-like repetition minus the repose.
Factories should have such efficiency, this steady supply of spheres beautifully formed as if by hand. They lie in their cedar bed, oven-ready and steaming, to be forked and carried away.
I am my horses’ personal servant. Their lovely faces disdainfully turn. They shift, as if knowing. “You forgot some over there.”
The wheelbarrow waits, my tray of tired dust filled with last night's meal to be laid outside. An icy picnic of leftovers brews for creatures too cold to find a meal elsewhere.
Coyotes wait knowingly on the far side of the hill then slyly cast a passing glance as I move farther home from the barn.
How many lives have come and gone since the last nail in the last plank struck home and the roof raised here? Caretakers? Steers grabbing a last mouthful of summer grass before slaughter? A pony’s courage greater than her diminutive form whose fate hangs on the whims of childhood? Beloved?
Even the steers, in their last gasp can’t forget that relationships abound around caution and terror. Gaping mouths no longer filled with food but blasting that last scream.
Manure maintenance as zen or chore? Who cares. As for the steers, they deserved a quiet death. Beloved.
They should be as safe as my spoiled, blanketed sweet-natured horses and with that big pointed buck lingering. His sons and daughters sacrificial babes to the slant-eyed coyotes, who, after all, need a meal in weather that’s not fit for animal or man, I grumble, as I climb the hill the wind killing a sunless sky.
— Carole Dell