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Friday, October 5, 2012

LwH: Lightning and Religion

Friday Greetings and Happy Birthday to Nellie Bly as this first weekend of the enchanted month begins.

We have been busy with Mr S. today and got his lunch and grocery outing done with minimal problems. He had been without his powerchair for week and we just received the call saying that it was back from the service shop and he is as happy as a kid at Christmas. No doubt he is outside driving around and around the complex where he lives as I write this. He reminds me of a kid in a go-cart race all by himself when he does that, but hey, it makes him happy so drive on!

For those who have asked, another eldercare moment:
It is obvious to us that Mr S. has had another mini-stroke which we can do nothing about, but adds to the dementia. His motor skills have suffered a bit, but most noticeable is the continuing degradation of his social skills. Eating and talking with his mouth open, saying rude and inappropriate things in public. Anna has stepped up her counseling him to the point of what you would do with a young child. He is still manageable in public but does take more work. If your older loved one has suddenly seemed to lose inhibitions, you may need to have them checked for a stroke.

Aging is definitely an ongoing battle and guess what? We are all doing it! It is up to all of us to do our best to protect and improve our own health... why does that make me want a donut all of a sudden? I'm bad!

Our small menagerie is doing well, with everyone eating and growing as expected. The little rescued ball python Scaramouche is having a bit of trouble shedding his skin, but not from the scarred area. His belly is clear and shiny, but his back is still covered in spots with old skin. I did put a plastic tub in his cage with damp sphagnum moss it and he has spent a lot of time in there. I am going to put him in a tub of warm water for a while and see if that helps. It has to be a little bit itchy!

Today's installment of Living with Horses is called Lightning and Religion, which will of course be explained as you read. The two have always been connected by church folks but I tend to be a bit more scientific in my take on electricity... Please, read and enjoy!

5. Living with Horses; Lightning and Religion
My first visit to the T. household was indeed a pleasant one and while I did enjoy the "comforts" of civilized life, I found that I really preferred the quiet of my camp and the company of the horses to the noise and confusion of being around people. I had apparently acclimated to life alone with the animals more than I thought.

The constant talking reminded me of something that my Native Americans taught me, which is that quiet is good. There is no need to fill every second of your awake time with chatter just to hear your head rattle. Sometimes it is OK to not have anything to say; every statement made, does not require rebuttal. Thinking about what was said before you formulate your answer, doesn't mean that you are "angry" or being rude. Pauses in conversation were barely tolerated in that farm house and it was stressful for me, constantly having to come up with something to say with people that I barely knew.

I did become friends with the T. family and thought very highly of them, especially the quiet and wise Seth. He had a great way with animals and was soft spoken and kind. There were those that said he wasn't "all there" and various other allusions to his having mental problems; which I found no basis for. He was sharp enough, but didn't see the need to help people make fools of themselves. He was simply a quiet man.

The animals of their immediate farmyard were somewhat of an education for me. I learned that goats can and will escape nearly any enclosure you put them in and invariably head for the most expensive thing around to mess up. In this case it was the new (1971) Cadillac with the "Brougham" roof, which was car talk for vinyl made to look like leather and glued over the metal roof to make it fancier. To the goats it was something new to eat and they did, climbing right up on top of the car and chewing the vinyl roof right off in one day. One goat even refused to get off the car, which proved to be a fatal mistake for the critter (Mr T. was so mad that he shot it) and a benefit for the farmhands who barbecued it and had a party.

Another scary barnyard fact was that the hogs would eat anything that got into their pens. There was a can with a flip up lid in the kitchen where all scraps were put from meals, along with cigarette butts and spoiled milk or pretty much anything except plastic or metal. It all went into the feed trough and the hogs ate it along with the commercial feed. A stray cat ran into the pen while I was there and it didn't make it out again. That freaked me out a bit, especially when neither the farmer or his wife seemed bothered by it. I wouldn't go near the huge beasts.

My short visits to the "Big house" were weekly, sometimes more, and always included a meal and use of their shower, which felt wonderful let me tell you! I was able to keep myself clean "washing up" out of a bucket in camp, but it just wasn't the same as a hot shower and being able to wash your hair thoroughly. I liked clean, even at 18 years old. 

Surprisingly, I also found that I missed Florida and my daily salt water "baths" (swimming) and the smell of the ocean. Mrs T. had aromatic bath stuff that reminded me of the ocean and the beach when I showered in their bathroom. It had been about nine or ten months since I left Florida, but it already seemed like a lifetime.

There was one little drawback to these visits and the familiarity that they brought; Mrs T. felt that I needed some help from her in the area of religion. If you know me, you know that this was definitely the wrong place to go! I had more than my fill of religious well-meaners and bible-thumpers already.

Mrs T. was a staunch member of the Warrenton Baptist Church and besides Sunday services, participated in the Wednesday night Bible studies program, and the Ladies Bible study group, which met whenever they had something to gossip... er, discuss. She felt that it was her duty to help bring me along and all. She did not let a single visit pass by without an offer to pray with me, or over me, or take me to bible study, or give me a new Bible for my own. All of which I politely tried to decline and she just kept on anyway. Theirs must be a very friendly version of religion because there was a lot of reading about and doing the "laying on of the hands" when she tried to pray over me. It was a lot better than all of the yelling and condemnation from my first experiences with the Baptist Church in Hollywood, Florida, but I still didn't want any of it. Generally, when people start praying, I want to start running! I couldn't describe it then, but now I would say that what I felt was "violated" in a way, because of it being forced on me.

I'm not sure what all was going on in her mind, but every time that I was around the house wearing just my cut-offs and sneakers, (my usual uniform of the day) she would look at me like a cat eye-balling a bird in a cage and it made me uneasy. So I took to avoiding contact with her and being busy on Sundays, etc. I didn't need the complications. A later girlfriend who saw a photo of me taken by Mrs Thomas (a copy was given to me) commented on my dark tan and six-pack abs and said that she knew exactly what the old lady was looking at and thinking. Back in those days, that just made me turn red.

I had been camped with the horses for about three weeks when a surprise visit from the Captain happened. He brought more feed for the horses and a case of cans with no labels on them for me; something that he picked up from the sale aisle at the Piggly-Wiggly no doubt. Also in that load was two cases of dog food... and two dogs.

He said that he figured that I would be lonely, so he brought his Cocker Spaniel, "Daisy", and his wife's German Shepherd, "Princess" up to stay with me. Right. I wasn't buying the story he was selling anymore. The way I saw it, he didn't want to have to take care of them himself, so he was dumping them on me.

Daisy was an ornery critter that was either snarling or peeing every time you spoke to her, and wasn't safe to have around kids. She had bitten people before and would do so again if provoked in any way. Great, just what I needed; a peeing biter with a hair trigger.

Princess was OK, just very nervous and jumpy... and did not like the Captain at all. I was learning to like this dog best. A few weeks later I found out why the dog didn't like the Captain, but that story will have to wait it's turn.

He also brought the vitamin B-12 shots that I had requested for one yearling colt that was a bit anemic. They did the trick and the colt was fine again after a week of daily shots. I had to learn a trick to give the shots to this needle-shy colt so that I could manage it alone; I would slap the horse on the neck a couple of times, and then thump it a little harder with the back of my fist (while holding the needle between thumb and finger), and quickly turn the hand and jab the needle in. Once the needle was in it was easy to connect the syringe and inject the B-12. The sensation from the thump covered the tiny stick of the needle and the colt never once moved away from me. The Captain had once tried to "man-handle" the colt into submission and give him a shot and it took me hours to calm the animal down afterwards. His eyes were rolling around and his nostrils stayed flared as long as the boss was in sight. Brutality is seldom the best way and never with that colt. 

Even at my young age I thought that it was ridiculous that I had to be the one to think of what to do for the horses. I would have been happier with my $10,000.00 investment seeing the vet if I owned him. At least I would sleep better anyway. They weren't mine, but I cared for them as if they were because they were my responsibility, and because I cared about all animals. I was however, learning a series dislike for the human species.

The horses wouldn't have anything to do with the Captain, which angered him and which they sensed immediately and that caused them to shy away even more. When they ran away from him, they invariably ran around and got behind me for "protection", which of course was like rubbing salt in an open wound. They trusted me and I didn't yell at them or hit them. Animals have better instincts than people I think.

The man was red-faced and twitching, he was so angry. I could just imagine the rage he could fly into if really provoked. Princess was pressed into my legs so hard that she was nearly knocking me over and was shaking with fear. The boss acted like he was trying to decide what to do next and I confess that I was looking for a sign that he was going to attack either myself or the animals. Thankfully a big clap of thunder broke the mood and gave him something else to think about.

There was obviously one very nasty summer thunderstorm rolling in, and the Captain said that he wanted to get going before it started to rain. I felt like it was more likely that it was Saturday night and he had women to chase. Princess would never have been brought here if his wife were home; the dog stuck to her like glue and adored her. Yep, he was definitely on his own and on the prowl.

Whatever the reason, I was glad to have him leave when he did. Especially after he tossed a shovel on the ground near me and said it was "in case I had to dig in". Dig in for what? Was I going to be under a mortar attack from the Colonel, or ??? I was really glad that I was going into the Army soon, this guy was getting more wacko all the time. What would he come up with next, land mines along the perimeter? Don't laugh, I expected to see them in the next load! I wondered if there was such a description as "lethally crazy" in the psychology textbooks. I didn't remember it from Psych 101, but it had to be there, somewhere. This man was living proof that the condition existed. I began thinking about defenses for myself should he snap.

I had constructed a holding pen in the pine thicket behind my tent, where the trees grew close enough together to form an umbrella and the ground was covered in pine needles and no undergrowth. I was able to find a clear area which was large enough for all six horses to get in comfortably and wove cut saplings in and out in a basket-weave fashion through standing trees to create a corral. This pen provided a measure of cover and relief from the storm that was just beginning when I put the last cross bars up. I was afraid of the possibilities of what might happen to a horse with metal shoes, standing on wet ground out in the open. It seemed like it would make them too much of a lightning magnet to me. But, no problem, they were put to bed, and I was heading for my tent as well. Everything would be fine.

I would have to share my tent with two dogs now, and neither one was at all happy with the thunder. I hoped that damned Daisy didn't decide to pee on my cot and sleeping bag. She really didn't need any excuse to turn it loose and anything would make her go. They had been following me around as I did my chores and were both soaking wet from the rain. The aroma of wet dogs filled the air inside that tent and permeated every fabric item there, the blankets, sleeping bag, my clothes. Even the cotton fabric of the tent smelled like a wet mutt! I thought to myself; this was not going to be pleasant when it got hot again. I would have to air everything out and try to keep the varmints (raccoons, 'possums, squirrels, etc.) out at the same time.

The only good thing about these storms is the sedative affect that they have on me. I can go right to sleep with a storm blowing and rest well; which I proceeded to do. The dogs were both under my army cot and quiet, and the horses were fine. I went into a deep sleep instantly, but not for long.

I don't know how many of you have been as close to a lightning strike as I was that night, and I really don't want a repeat performance, ever again. I woke up when the crack of the lightning sounded like the world's biggest bullwhip snapping and was followed instantly by the thunder clap. That extremely loud noise and the two dogs leaping on top of me, scared out of their minds, decidedly ended all thoughts of slumber.

The next lightning bolt hit about ten feet away from the tent and fortunately, ran away from me. It blew a pine tree to splinters that was about fifty feet away, all of this going in the opposite direction from where the horses were. The tree that blew up was a favorite hangout of the horses and I feel strongly that they would have been under that tree, had I not put them up. Luck was heavily in our favor on that night.

"Power" is hardly a strong enough word to describe the feeling and/or impression of that strike, and "fear" took too much thought. I think "amazement" would be closer; "awe" is probably best. Keep in mind that this occurred during a pitch black, hard raining night, so there was no way to anticipate what would happen.

When that lightning bolt hit the ground it produced a flash of light so intense, that I could see right through the fabric of the tent, like it wasn't even there. There was so much light being pushed through the weave of the fabric as to render it not transparent, but invisible! It was AWESOME!

I knew that I had to see to my charges immediately and that meant getting soaking wet again, and in the howling wind, but I just put my shoes back on and went out into the stormy night and checked on the horses. 

They were a little bug-eyed from the noise but were OK, and hadn't spooked and crashed into the "fence" of pine tree poles, or anything. They were happy to see me and voiced their pleasure in horse talk, but otherwise stayed calm and tight in their bunched together pose. Fortunately it wasn't their first thunderstorm and they were a happy herd, comfortable with each others company.

That big pine tree burned and smoldered all night and into the next day, but didn't spread to anything else, (thanks to the soaking rain), for which I was grateful. The air smelled like electricity, which I was told comes from the ozone, but it smelled kind of like a welder's shop too.

I felt like I had been privileged to stand at ground-zero of one of the greatest actions of nature and witness the awesome power of lightning from the inside out; all without any harm to me. That is special, and I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything!

To Be Continued:

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