.... and then the telephone rings ....
The day was forecasted to be a keeper. Remember where Refuge Farms is located - it's often called the Northern Tundra up here. It gets to -40 degrees (yes, below) zero in the winter and the winds can create weather conditions where your flesh will freeze in seconds. Really! And so to have the 12th of November to be forecasted for 60 degrees ABOVE zero was most uncommon and something to take full advantage of.
I had spent time Friday evening creating my list of outside things that must, truly must, get done before the freeze. I had the pond to drain and clean, the birch trees to stake, stock tanks to clean, lumber to move, barns doors to close up for the winter, lawn equipment to store and cover, and even bulbs to plant on Frannie!
The list was long and I knew I must have a steady source of energy so I took time to eat some breakfast. Up I was - at 4:34am I was walking out to the barn to rouse everyone and get the day on it's way! By 5am I was cleaning barns while filling stock tanks, and muttering that the snow fence also needed to get done sometime today...and, oh yeah, I needed to get the gravity box of sawdust home, too. The day had just begun and I was already feeling the pressure of so little time....
And then the telephone rings. I looked at the clock and it is 5:17 in the morning. My heart skips a beat. I feel my chest tighten. Something is wrong. I know that answering the telephone will change my life forever. I've been here before. Experience is a great teacher... I am a good student.
With anxiety in my voice, I hear myself say "Good morning! Refuge Farms!". Maybe if I am chipper, I hope, the message on the end will change....
"Sandy", the male voice orders, "I need you here before 10am.
"I recognize the voice and immediately respond. "John", (not his real name), "we are full - overfull, in fact!"
John is what we call a kill buyer up in this end of the country. He makes his living
picking up animals that people want to dispose of and transporting those animals to the appropriate slaughter houses. John is a family man. I have had many conversations with John. I personally like John. It's his job that I detest. In our conversations about that job, John tells me "It's a business". It is my impression (read that as hope?) that John and I have come to know each other so maybe a bit of my heart can rub off on John. Just maybe....
Well, it's obviously working. John has called with a request for help. An ill and depressed man has taken to taking pot shots at his animals with his shotgun. Many of his animals are dead or are being put down due to the extent of the injuries. But a few have been sheltered in the barn awaiting pick-up. John was called. "Ship 'em!" the owner had said. So John was about to go back to the man's farm and pick up the remainder of the animals and deliver them for slaughter.
But a few of the horses stuck in John's mind (or should I say his heart?). A few of the babies and a couple of the grown horses were eyed by John and he was making three and only three calls this Saturday morning. He would put those horses out there and if anyone of us 3 came, we came. By 10am that morning - less than 5 hours from now! - any horses that weren't picked up would be on the truck.
I was his last call. He said he figured I was full. He chuckled with his comment that he had never known me to have an empty feeder for long. But he had one horse in mind that he thought really needed us.
He went on to tell me of the big Belgian who had run in to the woods to escape from the panic of the shootings. When the owner had found the horse in the woods, the man had beaten him and hauled him back to the barn where he refused to feed or water him. It had been several weeks.
The horse was thin but had the big belly of starvation.... or maybe worms. But regardless, John said, there was something in this horse's eyes that caused John to think of Refuge Farms. He said the marks from the beating were healing over, but the horse was imploring him. Interesting, I thought, that a horse would implore John. Part of me is thrilled to hear the voice of this man explain the story.
I could come and pick up the horse or not. It was completely my choice. But by 10am he was on the truck. The "old John" came back as he closed the conversation with "It really doesn't matter to me either way. I can make some money off of him or I can give him to you. Whatever." Click.
I go back to cleaning barns and attacking my list. Tears roll as I think of the terror of the animals as they are being shot. The ones that are killed are the lucky ones. The maimed ones are the ones to be cried over, and I do. The few that ran were smart, I think. But for what is their bravery? Just to be hauled away and slaughtered?
By 6am my horse trailer is dropped on to my truck and I am changing in to travel clothes for the 3 hour ride. I must go directly there if I am to be make the 10am deadline. I need fuel in the truck. I take $50 of the hay money to spend on fuel. That should just about get me there and us back.
The ride seems long and never-ending. What if I am late? That is the least of my worries. What if I meet the eyes of others being loaded for slaughter? I am too weak to look away and I am financially unable to support the few mouths I have now! Dear Lord, I pray, help me to not see any others. Please do not let me see any horse other than the one destined for Refuge Farms.
"Why am I crying?", I ask myself as I drive. I am afraid. I am sad. I am scared. And I am going against every logical, practical, and real bone in my body. "DO NOT TAKE ANY MORE!" is being screamed at me! But my heart overrules, and I drive on.
I arrive and park at the end of the driveway. I walk in with my head down. I do not wish to see corpses of animals. My ears are ringing loudly. Nerves, I think. I hear voices of men but no animal sounds. I'm okay and moving forward....so far.
I come in to the barn and immediately a huge head greats me. Oh no! We meet eyes. Regardless of John's intentions, this is going to be the one. I pet him and say, "It's okay now. You are safe now. I will watch over you now."
John comes around the corner and says "See what I mean?" I start sobbing with relief. This, in fact, is the intended horse! Thank you! In a gesture totally out of personality, John puts his arm around my shoulder and says "I knew you couldn't take what's going on so I pulled him up front here for you. Take him and go now."
With that John turned and left. I dared not run after him because of what I may see or hear. So I hollered "Thank you, John! Thank you!" He waved his hand in the air as he continued to walk out to the pastures and back to the ugly tasks that await him.
As I pet the horse for a moment, it dawns on me that maybe my relationship with John is existing so that I can see, through John, the other side... The side that I do not have the guts or the stomach to witness, but the side that makes places like Refuge Farms needed. A new light comes in to my mind...
The big guy and I walked down the driveway and in to the trailer. There is no hesitation. No fear. No defenses in this creature whatsoever. He is passive because he thinks and is that way. And he has the right to be angry and mean. Amazing. He is forgiving us Human Beings already. This horse has much to teach all of us around him. I smile for the first time that day.
I have hay in the trailer and he begins eating immediately upon entering. This big, skinny Belgian turns his head with a mouth full of hay and looks me in the eye once again. I hear it. I hear what he says. "Your welcome", I say, "Glad I came. Although I don't know how I'm gonna feed you, big guy!"
Closing the trailer I begin to hear the sounds of the works around me. The ringing in my ears is going away and so now I can hear. I run to the truck and pullaway. I am such a softie! I cannot bear to look at the sights or hear the sounds. Someone must do it though, and I am thankful for John.
Once home, I put this big guy in corral where he calmly begins the process of eating the round bale. At one point, he lifts his huge head and surveys his surroundings. Yes, he has had the 3 promises before exiting the trailer. I gave them to him while standing calmly next to him in the trailer. He looks at his home - his final home. The place where he will spend his remaining days and where he will be laid to rest when he crosses over. He looks at all the others and feels the peace of the place. A huge sigh comes out of the horse. I feel his calmness and remember Pastor Jean's sermon from last Sunday....
You see, last Sunday, I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. As this Pastor stood in front of the congregation on her stilts (yup, she did), she told us that if you walk on stilts and look down at the ground you will fall. Very simple, she said. Looking at the immediate ground before you will make you fall. But if you look out in front, you will be able to walk on those stilts. Keep your eye on the horizon and you will move forward.
Well, I'm keeping my eye on the horizon and trusting the ground immediately around me will be dealt with somehow. I have faith that our mission is good. That the job of Refuge Farms is to heal - horses and Human Beings alike. Heal, we will do. How? Don't always know that answer. Some days it's overwhelming. Some days I just try not to think of the details. And some days, I go against my brain and act on my heart. And those days, I sleep well.
I have my eyes firmly on the horizon and I will watch over. As I visualize my mission, isn't it interesting that I always picture myself standing on a hill with my walking stick in hand surveying the herd and the horizon? It's always at sunset and the sky is pink and the wind is calm. And there is peace. And I am pleased with what I see. Peace and contentment and healing everywhere around me.
This particular Saturday started out to be a normal day on THE FARM. Much to do. A list of tasks to complete. And then the telephone rings.
The day was, indeed, normal! We made a difference out there today. Another minister has joined the herd. And I sleep well that night - even with that task list barely started!