On a cold October day, the rains came. It had been a dry summer, enough so that the pond was noticeably down and the squash leaves were curled and yellow. But that week there was a hurricane down south, and we caught its tail end and were inundated for several days. Not as bad as those directly in its path, to be sure. But enough that our season flipped like a switch and our outside work ground to a halt. There was only one thing to do in times like these – stay inside and let the ducks enjoy it all.
We nicknamed any overly wet days “duck weather”, because if there is any creature that can see a gross, sloppy mess as a joyous wonderland, it’s a duck. They race from one puddle to the next like small children opening packages on Christmas, barely savoring one delight before tossing it aside and rushing on to the next. They even make similar noises – half squeaking, half grunting, barely intelligible sounds between gasps of air. It’s as if they were made for moments like these.
I, on the other hand, was made for moments of 72 degrees and sunny. Within a margin of +/-4 degrees. Dry, but not too windy. With a hint of clouds, but not so many that it becomes depressing. You know the days. And while I don’t necessarily want to experience temperatures below freezing, I need to live where they exist so that the apple and pear trees will bear fruit and the bugs will die out and have to start over again each year. I’m not high maintenance about too many things, but the weather just might be one of them.
As for rainy days, I may have the blessing of a short commute, but it’s all on foot, and there is nothing quite as icky as giant splotchy water droplets down the back of your neck. The ducks may let such unpleasantness roll off their backs, but I contort into a tortured cringe, my shoulders clutched up to my ears.
I may be fond of the ducks, but I’m pretty sure Buck is my spirit animal when it comes to the weather. He dislikes anything but perfectly sunny, and makes sure to let you know of his displeasure. He can maintain a pissy expression for months at a time when necessary, or perhaps his face is just frozen that way – how would we ever know? He glares at us from beneath his mop of hair and chews slowly, contemptuously in our direction.
I remember the first time one of our friends found out we had a mini horse – the first thing she asked us was if he was kind of a jerk? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, he is. How had she known? She raises livestock, and apparently mini horses are all like that. A complex exacerbated by their small stature, I suppose. I’m pretty short myself, I get it. We get cranky sometimes when we can’t reach the glasses on the tall shelf.
On hot days, Buck swishes his tail like an irritable young child angry at the world for existing. In rainy weather, his face sinks into an ornery glare, angry at us for allowing such awfulness to fall from the sky. And on cold days, his expression solidifies into bitterness personified, and he makes sure to send it squarely in our direction lest we not be aware of just how much he dislikes life. I suppose if I had a haircut like his, I’d be bitter too.
The only thing he consistently does like is construction equipment. Like a toddler mid-fit, his grouchiness can be immediately interrupted by the sight of the wondrous shade of Caterpillar yellow. When the ditch mowers do their slow monotonous work, he stands right by the side of the road, pressed up against the fence to eagerly watch them while slowly munching grass as if it’s popcorn. When our road was paved during our first year here, he spent the entire summer glued to the scene like a giant TV set. He learned to associate the worker’s lime green safety vests with excitement – enough so that when the community service teams periodically pick up litter along the ditch, he watches them too – just in case something exciting might happen.
He may be pissy to us, but like a toddler, he’s an angel to everyone else that he meets. The neighbor’s son from down the road pets him like a big old dog, the delivery man gives his neck a scratch every time we get a parcel, and the farrier calls him sweet as a kitten. When campers come to visit, they treat him like the farm mascot – they’re not really here to see us, just Buck. They take photos of his crazy hair and we find them later online, hashtag Buck, hashtag minihorse, hashtag bangsfordays.
There is a woman who stays in one of the seasonal homes by the lake – in the summer, she rides her bike by every morning. And every morning, she stops to give him a long nuzzle. Buck looks forward to her visits to the point that he runs after every bicycle that rolls by, assuming they must be here to visit him, or else why would they be on our street? We learned when we bought the old farmhouse that we own half the road; an odd technicality leftover from the days when it wasn’t paved, just a dirt stretch from ridge to house. But I am pretty sure that Buck thinks he owns it; it is the asphalt carpet that he extends to all of his adoring fans.
During our first spring with Buck, the farrier chastised us about his weight – he had gotten plump in the middle, and it could split his feet and cause infection. He should be kept penned in a tiny area and only let out to graze at night. Or, buy him a harness that covers most of his face to make it harder for him to eat. So we should take a crabby horse and make him crabbier? The spring grass had a higher sugar content, she explained, and was making him fat. It was only temporary, until he lost the weight and the summer grass filled in.
We decided against the night grazing after realizing he could potentially make Alan late for work every morning if he had to chase him down to pen him in. It wasn’t like Buck would go willingly. He doesn’t do anything willingly. Besides, even I know that if one is hoping to streamline one’s derriere, it’s best to avoid grazing at night.
So we bought the harness and put it on him. Buck quickly slipped it off in Houdini-like fashion. We found him – and the harness – among the tall grasses a few hours later, munching contentedly. Alan put it on him again, buckling it tighter this time. Again, it came off by that evening, and again it was replaced by a satisfied smugness. We found the harness the following week, out near the oak tree. Alan put it on him again, so tightly that he felt guilty. Surely he couldn’t get it off this time. Until a few days later, when Buck gave us the sassy head wave of victory, too plump to wave much else. We gave up after that.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that we found out that not only did the seasonal cyclist give Buck treats every day, but so did our mail lady, telling us offhandedly that he gets upset when she doesn’t. And lord knows who else had been conspiring amicably against us. Fattening spring grass, my ass.
We toyed with the idea of moving his pasture. Clearly having Buck by the side of the road was not doing us any favors. But it was the only area fully contained, fenced with both thick wood posts and linked wire mesh. We’d had him in other areas in the past, fences with only wire and metal poles, only to have our neighbor walk him back home on a dog leash after he’d gotten out. He’d nip the thick zip ties, or stretch the wire with his big mini butt until it was distended enough for him to push his way underneath. One day I had to lure him back in the yard with a scoop of chick feed hastily tossed onto a garbage can lid. I kept it just out of reach of his outstretched lips until I had him safely in the dog kennel, then threw it across the ground and quickly latched the door. I’ll never forget the look on Alan’s face as he pulled in the driveway, staring at the kennel where the dogs would usually be, and instead greeted by the only creature who could not care less that he had returned.
Besides, the more we thought about moving Buck, the more we realized how much it would disrupt the whole social structure of our tiny world. The amount of people who know us as “the ones with the little horse” is pretty staggering. It comes up in almost every casual conversation after we’re asked where we’re from. The old farmhouse in Saybrook? Ooooohhh. So that’s your little horse out there.
We don’t get much traffic out here, but the percentage of cars that drive by and slow down to wave and point and take photos of Buck is just crazy. We have a car that honks its horn in a friendly hello every day – I thought for sure it was someone saying hi to me, until I realized it was happening even when I wasn’t out there working. They were honking at Buck. It was the day I finally realized that that damned mini horse has more friends out here than I do.
I think it’s a bit like being at a job where someone else gets all the credit for your hard work. I’m the one who holds down the fort around here, some days quite literally. Buck doesn’t do anything. He’s just a show pony. The most he does is poop fertilizer, as Alan would say, though he does do quite a good job at that, admittedly. Somehow, through a biophysics I do not yet understand, he deposits said fertilizer in straight lines, to make it easier to gather. They are so noticeably organized that Wayne the Amish carpenter was visibly impressed, and asked us in his slow Amish drawl, How’d you get him to poop in rows like that? I almost wish Alan had faked his answer, just to see Wayne’s expression change, if ever so slightly. But he answered honestly – he had no idea.
Alan sometimes tells himself that Buck’s job is to mow the grass. And while that is technically true, Buck makes it enough of a chore that no one’s load is lighter – except perhaps his, after said fertilizing. We let him out from time to time as a special treat for good behavior. If that sounds like a prisoner being granted parole, that’s about right. He gets access to the lush, thick grass behind my studio. It’s always greener on the other side of the fence, naturally. But nearly always, he’ll find a way to be a brat. Once he walked up to the picnic table where Alan and I were sitting after dinner. He sniffed at Alan’s beer bottle, then waited for Alan to look away and deliberately knocked it over. Jerk, said Alan, shaking his head in frustration. Buck gave a sassy flip of the mane and trotted off, victoriously.
I suppose I should find a better spirit animal. I’m no match for that pain in the ass. I don’t mind the rain if I get to watch it from inside, and a fireplace can turn the cold into cozy. I may get cranky about life from time to time, but only periodically. Though I’ll admit my derriere could use a little streamlining after the winters out here. It’s all that spring grass, you know. It’s just so fattening.