Saturday, December 4, 2010

Evening chores

My favorite time of day begins just as the work day ends. I leave my cozy upstairs office, where I have sat for most of the last eight hours with a space heater toasting my legs, and make my way downstairs into the kitchen. Turning on my CD player to some jazz Christmas tunes, I pull an apple and large carrot out of the fridge, rinsing them off under the warm faucet. Next I grab a cutting board and my favorite stainless steel knife, and slowly and carefully dice the carrot and apple into small chunks, sweeping them off the board into a small container to bring out to the barn. Setting the container of produce on the washing machine in the entryway mud room, I don my winter chore clothes: wrapping a scarf around my neck, pulling on insulated Carhartt pants, my Tingley rubber boots, an alpaca wool hat, then my insulated chore coat and insulated leather gloves, finally tucking my camera into one of the many pockets. ready for snow! Checking the outdoor temperature one last time, I head outside and cross the cold and snowy driveway moving towards the barn. The boys are anticipating my arrival, having set their stomach clocks to coincide precisely with when I should appear. They line up at the gate with anticipation. A far cry from the first month they were here, when they would stay as far away in the pasture as possible, and run away at my approach. Snow mustache I close the catch pen behind me, then head into the tack room to prepare their bowls. In the tack room I have two metal garbage cans holding pellets/chow. Honeywiese and Boo get apples and carrot and a small amount of specially formulated alpaca pellet/grain in their bowls, and they will be fed together in the catch pen. Monet is getting chow from the farm where he was boarding. He will be slowly converted to the same pellets (and treats) as the other boys over time. But for now, he gets his own food and gets to eat by himself, not having to defend his bowl against the other boys quite yet. Monet I measure out quantities of each type of feed into three bowls and take two of the bowls out to the catch pen where I set them in two corners. Alpacas will get territorial over food and this is often the time humans will get caught in the spit-crossfire. By spreading out their bowls they have less opportunity to get upset with each other. And by placing their bowls down before I let them in, there is less chance I will be the unhappy recipient of their competition. I open the gate to the catch pen and call each of the boys by name, letting them in one at a time, but keeping Monet out. Monet does not like being kept out, but after securing the gate behind me, I give Monet his bowl of chow and watch as all three happily dig in. Honeywiese, Boo and Monet Satisfied that everyone has their own bowl, I begin checking the barn - their water has been freezing in the heated bucket, so we added another heating element which seems to be working. I clear floating hay out of the water and check that the temperature is still OK. I check if anyone has been pooping in the barn, and if so, I remove it with a rake and shovel, tossing it on the horse manure pile. I pull a flake of hay off of a bale in the tack room and spread it out in the big horse trough in the barn (which has been converted to a hay trough). Again being aware that alpacas like their space while eating, having hay spread throughout the long trough and more in a second, smaller trough gives them lots of options. By now the two boys in the catch pen have polished off everything in their bowls but Monet is still eating his, so I wait and watch until he finishes, then let the other boys back into the pasture. There is nothing left to do now, but I like to hang around a few more minutes, watching as they investigate the new hay in the barn, or sometimes, investigate me. My favorite thing to do is pull a folding chair out of the tack room and set it up just outside the barn door. When I am at their level like this, it seems they feel safer in investigating me as well. Boo Monet, ever the sweet boy, often gives me greetings (sniffing my forehead or nose). Even Boo is getting a lot braver, standing near me and sniffing my gloves, knees or boots. This entire routine takes only 15-20 minutes total, but time seems to stand still as I spend time with these magical animals. The first night Monet arrived, I went out to the barn right before heading to bed. I wanted to make sure everyone was OK, especially Monet, in his new surroundings. It was pitch black outside, but the barn has electricity and lights, which I clicked on as I slipped inside the tack room and opened the inside door to the barn. Instead of startling and running outside immediately, as Honeywiese and Boo so often do, all three just looked at me with curiosity, large brown eyes framed in lashes so long you can't believe they are real. They all continued to stand around munching on hay, completely unconcerned with my presence. I sighed without realizing it, and a feeling washed over me that I can only describe as coming home to a place I never knew I had left. Blessings -


J said...

That is quite hefty work given the temperature. It certainly is a great feeling, shepard and animal; a very intimate exchange of chow for a greater awareness and appreciation of things, indeed magical creatures.

Victoria Strauser said...

Well said - a greater awareness and appreciation of things.

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